Why we never focus on strategy? the simple factor that always fails…
Daniela Correa Cruz
We are bad at predicting the future, so bad in fact, that Hollywood keeps reminding us every now and then.
In the 1989 movie "Back to the Future II" flying skateboards were a thing in 2015… did this actually happen? Of course not!
Mad Max’s first movie from 1979 was supposed to depict the late 90s, according to fans and interviews made to the director, George Miller. Fortunately, the only bad thing that happened then, were fannels.
Harvard Business Review has several articles about how we humans have failed in the attempt to predict the future. Philip Tetlock from the University of Pennsylvania wrote one of the most popular books on this subject: "Expert Political Judgement". In his book he asked experts to try and predict geopolitical events, like the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Experts were constantly less accurate than the simplest algorithm and were even compared to monkeys playing with darts. Despite these results, Tetlock was able to discover something relevant. Those who were able to considerer several scenarios and balance them out, were much better than those who based their predictions on a single idea.
Going back to Hollywood, if our idea about the future is just based on the apocalypse or innovative gadgets, we are going to make bad predictions. It seems easier to base everything on a single idea, instead of juggling with several.
And what has all this to do with strategy? Strategy has to do with the future, all the time. It is about a goal we want to achieve so we need to make better predictions about how that future is going to look like.
I consider that there are several factors that tend to prevent us from developing an strategy:
1. Not knowing how to do it.
2. Thinking it is not necessary.
3. Lack of “time” (which is actually laziness)
4. Believing it is too difficult for us to do it.
5. Fear of thinking about the future.
On this blog I have been talking about the 5th one. Strategy is not about the short term, that is what tactics are about. So, ¿what can we do about it?
1. GATHER THE MOST INFORMATION YOU CAN
Strategy requires research and conducting research is not as expensive as everyone believes it to be. There are three variables that characterize research and most of the time one can only chose two of them:
You will have to choose what works best for you. Most of the time you can even do the research yourself. There is plenty of good information out there, even for free. You just need to know what to look for and where. Information should always help us make decisions; if it does not, get rid of it.
2. ESTABLISH RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE INFORMATION YOU GATHERED.
Why in a world so full of information we are still so uninformed? We could talk about this all day long, but the actual problem is that we do not know what to do with so much information. What we really need besides collecting, is understanding and stablishing relationships. So, what do you need:
a. Great knowledge of the industry or market you are in. At least understand your business model.
b. Capability of making reasonable assumptions (point a. helps on this) We will never have all the data we would like, we need to be able to work with what we have.
c. Conceptual thinking, so you can merge ideas.
3. DON’T GET DISCOURAGED BY THE “LONG TERM”
If you can remember the title of the blog, I mentioned a “simple factor that always fails”, well this is it. Thinking about the future, imagine tomorrow. We can have the data, transform it info information, make relationships between it and still have nothing. You might end up with some tactics, stuff you can do on your daily basis, but you will still lack an strategy.
Some say it will get harder and harder to predict the future, because everything goes so fast nowadays. This could be true, but we can also create strategy within time frames: 3 months, 6 months a year and on. Ten-year strategy is no longer a practice.
The main point is knowing how what we do today contributes to achieving what we want tomorrow (I am certain we all want that) So start by weeks, months, and once you start achieving your goals plan farther ahead. Bigger goals usually require more time.
I hope this has been useful.