fwd: Bad Strategy
To make the right digital decisions in challenging times, you need a clear strategy. Most strategies, however, are not.
Quarterly results are in for our dear tech giants, and it’s time to face the music. The ‘era of growth at all costs’ is over. With the pandemic boom behind us and the seemingly bottomless well of interest-free money dried up, we’ve entered a new chapter: one where choices must be made.
This more strict investment regime can feel especially tough now that we have data and AI breaking through the hype barrier. If you’ve read our previous Forward newsletters, you will remember: it’s time to get your feet wet if you don’t want to miss the next boat.
But, given these more austere times, you don’t want to invest in data or AI without a clear purpose. And this is what surprises me: there are very few companies that actually have a clearly articulated vision or strategy. Or worse: their strategy feature on the ‘Greatest Hits of The Big No-Nos’.
"Very few companies actually have a clearly articulated vision or strategy. Or worse: their strategy features on the ‘Greatest Hits of The Big No-Nos."
The opening track of that album: being too inwardly focused. If you’re still not listening to customers when shaping your strategy (or cherry-picking from research), I hereby ban you to a Sisyphos-like fate of pushing a Model T up a hill while listening to Henry Ford’s ‘faster horses’ quote on repeat.
Or worse still: not having a strategy at all. When management guru Peter Drucker said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, he meant you cannot do without a strong culture to feed and execute your strategy. Not that you can do without a strategy. (For a live example of culture without a strategy, look at Google).
Another offender: not making choices. This is the Friends episode ‘the one with having your cake and eating it too’. It’s where a group of decision-makers is stuck at the side of the road choosing where to dine because they try to please all members of the group. “Pizzas? Burgers?’ ‘Uhm … Both?”
A good strategy sets priorities: if we have to choose (and we do), let’s do pizza even over burgers. Speed even over quality. Simplifying the product for new customers even over alienating the OG users. (Or the other way around, as long as choices are made.)
Now, say you have a strategy, you don’t want to confuse some crucial elements. Too many strategies confuse the what with the why. ‘The one with a lot of details on certain features but lacking a compelling vision’ is an episode we’ve seen all too many times.
"Too many strategies confuse the what with the why."
Or: mistaking a strategy with a timeline. Sure, it seems comforting to have a timeline that tells you exactly how you’ll get to the finish line, with some reassuring deadlines along the way. But that timeline will prove a lie. It demands a crystal ball: knowing exactly how long it will take to execute your strategy, and knowing all of the market or other events that will happen as you are doing so.
So stop pretending you have that crystal ball: admit you’re uncertain. And create an organisation that isn’t scared by this, but rather, is set up to deal with change.
As your teams sail through these winds of change (sorry not sorry), they do need one thing to stay the course: you, clearly articulating the direction. Simplify, then amplify. So when something like generative AI comes up, they will not just know what to do, but why.