Strategy is about out-thinking your competition. It’s about vision first and planning second. That’s why it’s so important that you think before you plan. And that the thinking part of what you do is given a priority. Strategists who don’t take time to think are just planners.
Mark Zuckerberg, while at Harvard, built a web site called Facemash ‘for fun’. He built it over the weekend. He built it without permission. It allowed visitors to choose who was ‘hotter’ from photos of two males or two females. It was a copy of an already existing idea. And it was shut down. He decided to build something better and launched Facebook from his dorm room. Thinking came first – what fun stuff could be done – then the planning. Even today, Facebook believe that ‘done is better than perfect’. And that’s how strategic thinking works best.
Unfortunately, if you start the planning before thinking, you can end up with the wrong solution to the right problem. Or perhaps the right solution to the wrong problem. Or the least imaginative solution to a really important problem. You might miss out on all the creative ways you could have grabbed the very biggest opportunities. Your objective should be to make sure that imaginative, open, playful, passionate thinking happens before the serious work of planning begins. Your objective should be to stay as open as possible before you get down to the realistic business of planning. You’ll find that it’s just as easy to plan something amazing as it is to plan something obvious.
Strategy is about the shortest route between means and ends. It’s either about out-thinking the competition – or – even better – about finding new, even greater opportunities. Opportunities the competition hasn’t found yet. Or opportunities the competition doesn’t understand because it has done the kind of thinking that you have. This is the kind of thinking that The Strategy Book encourages you to develop.
There are lots of reasons that organisations don’t think before they plan. The most important given is probably the lack of time. People say they are so busy planning, organising, doing and coping with problems that they don’t have time for thinking. Thinking is a luxury they wish they had but don’t have. Some people feel thinking is an unnecessary luxury. For action oriented individuals, it may seem obvious what they should be doing. The more pressing questions are how efficiently they can organise the work and how effectively they can get people to do the work.
Successful organizations try to have a healthy balance between thinking, planning, and doing. They spend time learning from what it has done before and how well it’s plans have led to the results that they intended. They also just explore their world without specific plans in mind. It’s worth asking a few questions: How much time have you invested in thinking about strategy? How many options have you considered before the plan was written? How have you ensure that the thinking behind the plan is challenged? How much time do you spend exploring trends, possibilities, and cool stuff? How much time is spent playing with ideas, hopes, and dreams?