Pseudo-Strategy: 5 Questions to Help Expose it!

In my Product and UX Design studies, I’ve been learning a ton about strategy over the past few years. Of course, I’m no expert, but I’ve come a long way in my understanding and I hope to help you on your journey to a deeper understanding of the needlessly ambiguous world of strategy.

In a recent video by Roger Martin, he explains the difference between a plan and a strategy. There’s a danger in confusing them.

Spoiler: They aren’t the same…

Planning is not Strategy.

One thing that Martin addresses is the confusion around the discipline of “Strategic Planning.” What’s ironic is that so much strategic planning in the business world isn’t actually strategic. Planning can’t be strategic unless it’s actively following a clear strategy.

The trap we can fall into is relying on the plans we’ve made. Plans are good. Plans are necessary. However, plans that aren’t backed by strategy can be damaging. They can be harmful. We can make the best plans based on criteria that don’t align with any coherent strategy. That leads us to pursue wasteful work or expand beyond our market’s reasonable limits. This danger is why it’s so critical to:

  1. Have an actual strategy.
  2. Ruthlessly and regularly remind yourself and others of that strategy.
  3. Make your plans tightly coupled to your strategy.
  4. Test your decisions and outcomes (not outputs) against your strategy. Revise as necessary.

So…what is Strategy?

This video by Felix Oberholzer-Gee really breaks down the core of what strategy is.

Spoiler: Strategy is all about delivering value.

Oberholzer-Gee clarifies that strategy is about the value gap between willingness to buy and willingness to sell. There are many factors and elements that play into it, but the core of strategy is based on value delivery. Strategy should help us carve out a clearly defined value that we hope to deliver. Strategy is a focusing tool. Michael Porter reminds us that strategy helps you choose what you do. If you are saying “yes” to every opportunity, then your strategy (if you have one) isn’t working. Strategic work is painful because so many opportunities are left on the table. But, that’s what makes a strategy shine. Clear and regular reasons to say “no” and keep you focused on the value you are attempting to deliver.

Identifying Pseudo Strategy

Lots of things masquerade as “strategy” these days. So, how do we tell if we are truly acting on strategy? Here are a few questions we can reflect on…

  1. What guides our choice of where we spend our time and energy?
  2. Do people across our company share the same criteria for choosing how to spend time and energy?
  3. What unique value will “this” bring to the value gap that customers are interested in and we can sell for profit?
  4. Why should we say “yes” to this?
  5. What are we sacrificing by choosing this?

Hopefully, these are some helpful starter questions. They don’t answer what to do if things seem off, but here are a few recommended resources to get you started on your journey to solid strategic thinking.

Digging Deeper into Strategy

If you’re interested in learning more about strategy from the brightest minds in the space, check out the following resources:

👋🏻 Thanks for reading! I hope you gained something from it.

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