When “Sex in the City” launched 1998 it was the result of thorough strategic planning. A strategy creation process that – according to anecdotes – was fun; and with a result that was extremely successful and swooped the market. The TV series created a “Blue Ocean”. It was a new type of genre, that targeted single women in urban cities, with a career and liberal world view. It did away with more ‘traditional’ role models and hence catered to a wide demographic. It took some time until other networks and producers followed suit. Sex in the City had this franchise – its blue ocean – to itself for some time.
Blue Ocean Strategy is one concept that has grown in support over the past couple of decades and yet, only a few business leaders know about it or even dare to apply it. Maybe because it is a challenging methodology in that you deal with lots of uncertainties. Even more, it requires you to leave your comfort zone (which unfortunately and tragically is usually your very competitive current market situation – referred to as a “red ocean”). Most corporate strategist, decision-makers and entrepreneurs prefer to stay with more traditional methods of strategic planning: crunching numbers, decorating slides with millions of data sets, having serious and endless presentations studded with one analysis after the other. Let’s face it: the annual strategy review in most businesses is more an act of torture instead of a inspiring, yet demanding highlight event.
Don’t leave strategy to the men in the black suits
Within my own experience, the strategic planning in a business was always the privilege of those high-flyers with extreme analytical skills. Usually, they hailed from prestigious universities and held a doctor’s degree of some sort (physics was popular in those days). A background in consulting with a well-known firm such as McKinsey or Boston Consulting Group ensured them also a god-like status. Their word was the rule and challenging them was a taboo. You either were invited to this exclusive club or you had to stay out. The strategy process was an almost holy and always a very secret event, to which only a few chosen people had access to. Strategy was developed at the Olymp by the Gods, and we commoners only there were to put it into place… and usually failed, as the strategy was totally out of line with the business operations and most of all, with the customers,
For many years, I didn’t even dare to think that I could also be involved in strategic planning. I would not have considered myself a strategically thinking man. I was in awe and deference to each and everyone who so eloquently spoke about strategy. My imposter syndrome held me back to consult on strategy – I believed I am the hands-on guy, who ‘only’ understands the markets trends and might be having a talent for seeing a bigger picture. After all, I only came from a small village and was the offspring of a family of craftsmen. What should I know about strategy?
Yes, strategy always fascinated me and I realised over time that more and more of my clients appreciate my thinking, my insight, and my assistance in crafting good, sustainable strategies. Even more, I do also think that strategy development should be more of an act of creation rather than being suffocated in too much of analytical planning. Strategy should and could be fun – and it should be accessible to everyone in a company or organisation. Everyone should actually feel entitled, encouraged, and enabled to contribute to the strategy. The perspective of many is usually distilling down to a bigger picture and one that is creating a better path of growth than the elite approach of designing strategy by a selected few (even worse: a few outsiders).
Strategy is the story of all involved in a business and how it is told
Strategy needs the creativity and wisdom of all stakeholders in the business. Most importantly, that of the customers. And here it is where strategy creation becomes sometimes painful; where you need to leave your comfort zone. Truly listening to the clients can be a cumbersome, occasionally unpleasant task. You should not outsource this task to market research institutes or consultants. You must do this yourself. Make an honest effort to listen, to understand your customers and discover their deepest needs and wishes. Go beyond the discussion of this and that feature; go where you discover the motivation and the needs of your customers. There are wonderful exercises and strategy development tools to help you in this discovery. Use them and – besides the pain – consider this part of the strategy creation as something most profound, enlightening, and worthwhile. It can be fun, too, for you and the customer – and will bond you with them even deeper.
Try to see strategy more as an iterative process. Strategy creation is a journey and the best strategy starts without knowing the destination of the journey. That is why many feel so uncomfortable. Looking beyond the day-to-day challenges of managing a business, is even more daunting and scaring, if you do not know where this journey takes you. But if you want to create a new ocean for your business, you are by default entering new territory that no-one has gone to before. It can become frustrating, because you might need to charter your own course here.
Too often we want strategic planning a very straightforward path. Typical strategy methodology relies on churning tons of data, thorough and deep analysis, and endless presentation of figures, numbers, and data. Discussions are analytical, earnest, and restricted. Rarely do we make room for the free exchange of thoughts, inviting everyone to the table to hear their ideas, and openly and freely look at the big picture. There are wonderful modern approaches to strategy creation such as Business Model Canvas, Customer Journey Maps & Friction Audits, Blue Ocean Strategy, and T-Algorithm, etc. They are helpful, creative, and eye-opening – and yet many do shun them because they initially seem a bit chaotic, unsorted and disorganized when to start using them. But wasn’t every character in Sex in the City the same? And yet, each of them found her place and route to success.
If you want to create your Sex in the City moment, do contact us for how we can guide you on the strategy creation journey and make this trip a fun one.