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Strategy, story telling and the art of the long view

I was preparing for a talk for the PLATO network. Titled “Strategy, story telling and the art of the long view”

Alternative MBA in a day
At the same time we are preparing for an Alternative MBA in a day for Bookbuzz. Imagine a pop up campus, green berets, boot camp and Hogwarts. With the latest business thinking summarised and put into context and contrast.. As a residential in lovely Killarney. Arriving on Friday. Leaving on Saturday. Refreshed and inspired.

One of the subjects is strategy. Going through the hundreds of books we covered with our clients. You come to the startling and disappointing conclusion that the thinking has not changed that much. It starts with Marcus Aurelius and it ends with Drucker. A lot of the core principles have remained.

Movement, VUCA and you
We found 3 key lessons. Movement, VUCA and the importance of you. Understanding yourself, your values, your passion, the way you think, the way you feel, the way you look at things, the way you interact with others, you physiology, your health, your will power. Your instigation capital.

You are the metronome of your business
And all translated into your leadership style. Becoming the metronome of your business. Setting the pace and culture of your organisation (and your life). The seminal books are “Thinking Fast and Slow” and “Coherence”.

Mastery of you
You need to meditate, keep a daily diary, self reflect. Slow down when you think and understand the emotional wake you leave behind. And you need to spend the 10,000 hours. Mastery is key. There are no short cuts.

I think being self-aware helps against VUCA. You as an island of calm in a VUCA world. Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguity. It is chaos out there. Exponential VUCA. Which brings me to “The second machine age”. We are on the second part of the chessboard. Moore’s law is everywhere.

Exponential change
Robotics, material science, genetics, biology, AI, data, 3 D printing, claytronics, the Technium, Skynet. commoditisation, globalisation, the uber-connected consumer, hyper competition, social media, etc.

I could go on for hours. Quantum chips, Chris Anderson and free, longevity, the world of work, water, energy, demographics, Africa, etc.

If you bring that back to strategy, the faster things move, the further you need to look ahead. And there is no point looking backward. That is not the way you drive a car.

Do you know where you are going?
Do you have a vision? Do you have a plan? A business plan? Based on what? The problem with planning is that we now for sure that whatever we planned is NOT going to happen. But that is not what it is about. It is about dealing with VUCA, making sure you and your organisation become more fluid and anti fragile. Because how do you plan in a world that is utterly unpredictable? Where we are no longer talking disruptive innovation but big bang disruption?

NB I asked the question at the PLATO talk. 98% of the businesses did NOT have a vision or plan.

Futurevison by Richard Watson (who wrote “Future files” and F”uture minds”) suggest you don’t write one plan, with one end point, but a number of scenarios with a number of end points. Not one strategic plan, but a number of them.

The strategic questions are simple

Where are you now?
Where do you want to go?
How do you get there?

It is the environment you are operating in that is the difficulty. You need to become a trend watcher. Using INSPECT. Ideas, nature, society, politics, economics, culture and technology.

Possible futures
You then start clustering and start with “This is a world in which …. and start developing some perspectives and create possible futures.

Picking up the weak signals
The next step is to develop and define the pre-conditions that are needed to make these scenarios happen and start looking for the signals. And just to make sure you do throw in the unexpected events. No oil? No internet?

Bookbuzz has a client where we game this exercise. Combining innovation, strategy, staff engagement and change management. Played across the whole organisation.

Making it happen
And then it is about making it happen. Starting with making sure that your staff and your customers understand why you matter. Understand your purpose, vision and values.

You need to make sure it resonates, particularly with your staff. Happy staff creates happy customers. And it is not the other way around. Passionate staff creates passionate customers. With a common purpose. Making sure they care. Creating the platform of values, with everybody understanding where they are going. Your staff as the carrier of your brand, your values and your story. The way Kotler suggests in Marketing 3.0

Story telling
Which brings you to narrative, story telling and leadership by example. The eye opener for me was the conversation prism of Brian Solis. Which shows the fragmentation of engagement and information. There is too much noise. Nothing sticks. With an average attention span if 8 seconds (goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds).

Whats the story?
What is your twitter, your 30-second pitch? What is the book that tells the story of your business over the next 10 years.? Not the business plan, the narrative. The compelling vision and purpose that resonates.

The last lesson from reading all these books is that movement supersedes strategy. Only when you do things, the magic happens. Just get on with it. Forget about the business plan. Focus on the here and now.


So here is a suggestion or tool that might help to help you formulate your strategy and combine it with movement.

The strategic box
Created after I read Funky Business. Trying to deal with VUCA by helping to frame your focus. Using six statements, vision, values, passion, purpose, positioning and resources as the frames of the window you use to look at the world. What is inside is relevant, what is outside is not.










6 statements
The values, passion and purpose questions will bring you straight back to being self-aware. Vision will bring you to future visioning and a long term perspective. Positioning is your marketing. Resourcing is the people, time and money you have available.

Setting goals
The goals are the movement. Every day, every week, every month. Letting the magic happen, with the big picture in mind.

Killing giants
I thought I was talking to the converted. Strategy is where SMEs can out think, out move, out play the big boys. More flexible, more nimble, being closer to staff and customers. With passion and creativity. I was wrong. 98% did not have a plan. Maybe they focus on the movement only. Which is lesson number 3. And they might be right. I am not too sure.

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