conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘Strategy

Planning for Moments Vs. Mapping a Strategy

with 5 comments

The 5-year plan is dead. Long live the 5-year direction.

Once upon a time teams of corporate lackeys spent months writing strategies for one-, two-, and five-year plans. They smoked unfiltered Camels and crunched numbers and drank stale coffee to help guess about future sales, using only the flimsiest of data points. They produced thick binders full of prose and charts and graphs and tables of numbers that anticipated revenue and profit. It’s quite possible someone even read those binders. More likely: those in the C-suite who ordered it all just listened to the executive summary and nodded in agreement.

As one does.

Those binders went on to live rich, full lives on sacred shelves. Silently wise and knowing. Until, over time, the strategies gradually got it wrong more often than getting it right (had anyone read them to notice). Predictions have never been a strong suit for ephemeral beings like humans. Especially today when technology seems to refresh every few months—complete with a new set of expectations and parameters. Especially as the economy rises and falls like sea swells.

Where does that leave strategy today? It is impossible to see into the future so we got good at guessing. And we told ourselves to make the future the way we wanted it—as best we can. To step toward the future we’d like and maybe that future will meet us halfway.

Today there are far fewer teams guessing what will happen in five years. But those organizations doing well have taken the forward-looking aspect of planning and planted it as a direction. Given our direction of travel, what moments may arise that we can take advantage of?

Today our smart friends are planning for moments that occur along the path they’ve penciled in. Everything subject to change, of course. But if all goes well: this is where we want to be.

Today we must plan for serendipity.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

April 14, 2014 at 9:29 am

Never Say This To Your Boss On A Monday

with 2 comments

“Easy, Peterson. We’re in mixed company.”

Unless your employee figures “Why” for themselves

Certain words and phrases race from useful to cliché within an hour-long meeting. Just check out this list of 89 clichés, many of which you’ll likely hear today. Other words carry so much heavy baggage that when your VP says them, the air in the room suddenly seems carbon monoxide-heavy and people start to drift.

This word is among those problematic words.

It’s a common word. So common, in fact, that when uttered aloud it brings to mind exactly…nothing. This word is invisible.


Three of us have been talking about why it is so many clients see strategy as something hammered out by a few bosses in the back room—or simply as a complete waste of time. These organizations reward a “bias toward action,” which looks like lots of activity, lots of people staying late, lots of emails on Saturday and Sunday, without lots of results. Too often all that activity is at cross-purposes across an entire organization eager to prove their bias toward action.

The three of us would like to rehab the concept, but not the word itself. Our rehab efforts consist of breaking the concept into component parts that become as sticky as a five-year-old’s wonderment: What? Why? How? Simple stuff. But when approached directly, these words become profoundly effective tools for guiding teams and organizations and, especially brands. Incredibly useful words not just for giving instructions, but for engaging someone’s emotion and intellect. The first order of rehab is to include all three components. The second order of rehab is tell the straight story about each—without cliché, with clear endpoints. And that means end points that others can see if they get done (or not).

We’re starting to believe that managers who major on the “What” or “How” without telling “Why” are getting employees to feel OK running about on impulse drive without ever taking their work to warp speed. Of course, it is possible the manager still feels knowledge is power and to withhold the “Why” is a way to maintain that power. Impulse drive is all they’ll ever get.


Unless their employee figures out the “Why” for themselves. Unless the employee finds a way to put meaning into their work on their own. Unless the employee learns to engage in the kind of dialogue that helps a group move forward.

I hope to write more about this. The topic includes lots of working parts: leading from anywhere in an organization, learning to help a boss ask the bigger questions without disappearing down the rabbit hole of industrial strength strategy/BS sessions, helping each other grow into people who care and do our best. And many more.

Oh—and the third, most important order of rehab: courage. The whole thing needs to be stirred up by people willing to share their dumb ideas. Because sometimes dumb ideas produce solid, cogent, meaningful results, despite the awkward moments along the way.


Image Credit: 4CP via thisisnthappiness

Written by kirkistan

June 25, 2012 at 5:00 am

%d bloggers like this: