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Understanding what strategy is and how to create strategy that means something to people who have to implement it

Rene Power:

So, we’ve asked Mike to come along today because we want to talk about strategy and it’s often a word that creates quite a bit of fog in the minds of some people.

And a lot of people have a lot of different views of what strategy is whose role it should be and the sorts of things that it covers. So just to kick this off, I suppose, Mike you’ve had a career working in strategy and strategic thinking and strategic planning.

Through all of that time, how has your thinking on this evolved over that time?

Mike Baxter:

Strategy is misunderstood

Well, I think interesting that you should mention that it’s a foggy word, this strategy word because it definitely is, and it’s actually, it’s got good reason for not being simple and straightforward. If you imagine even your strategy personally or my strategy personally, there’s a whole bunch of things that either of us could be doing next week, next month, next year.

And if we were going into try and strategize that just for us individually, that’d be quite hard. We’d have to look at a lot of possibilities and we’d have to try and select the best ones from all of those possibilities.

We’d probably have to do quite a bit of analysis. Now, all of this is complicated enough when we’re just talking about you or I. Imagine we’re talking about an organisation with a thousand or 10,000, or maybe even a hundred thousand employees. You can imagine that that gets pretty hard.

Why gut feel doesn’t really help strategy formation

So, I think probably the first thing I would say that I’ve learned is that it’s too hard to try and do by gut feel. Some people will claim that the best strategists are the ones who just have really good gut feel and they kind of intuitively know which is the right direction.

Yeah, well maybe, but they’ve probably also got 10 years of hard graft of working out how a business operates in order to generate that gut feel. The gut feel doesn’t come from nowhere. It doesn’t spring out a fresh air.

There’s a lot of hard graft. And if there was one thing I would say that I would like to give as a starter here, it’s that we need tools and processes in order to make strategy accessible in order to make it feasible in order to make it doable.

Strategy often isn’t an overnight success

Rene Power:

Some of these overnight successes, like your Elon Musk’s, your Richard Branson’s, your Steve Jobs, the people that are lauded as working from their guts and taking chances and taking big risks…

Actually, we’re kind of saying, it’s not really. It’s built on a history of trying different things out and actually having a fairly good understanding of what works and what models work and what don’t.

Mike Baxter:


Rene Power:

Could it be fair to believe that they arrive at a point where there was a pivot or there was some magical thing. And then all of a sudden it went from there. But as we both know it takes 10 years to be an overnight success, doesn’t it?

Mike Baxter:

It does. And if you look at the statistics on startup organisations that are more people that are kind of yours and my age that win in startups than there are 18 and 20 year-olds.

We hear all the fables about young people making a big hit on startups. And of course they do. We all know that Facebook is one of them, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

And it’s the people who have done 10,000 hours or a lot more that are actually equipped to make judgements and decisions about strategy that does not require three months research, six months for search or a year’s research.

They are able to make these intuitive judgments because it’s based on such a wealth of experience.

Rene Power:

I’m particularly interested in looking at and applying some of the thought that’s gone into (your book) The Strategy Manual from all these years of working with businesses and how that applies in probably two scenarios that are relevant to this audience.

The first is people not in leadership roles. And the second is people who are working predominantly in marketing and how some of the stuff that you’re thinking about can be applied in those scenarios.