The most important word in strategy
It’s common knowledge that the most important word in strategy is why — why should we do this? Why is about making choices between options — and this is what strategy is all about.
But as Simon Wardley, the creator of the increasingly popular Wardley Maps, highlights — there are two types of why:
1) We have the why of PURPOSE — the BIG why, as in, why are we playing this game (often captured, unimaginatively, in the organisation’s mission)
2) But we also have the why of MOVEMENT — multiple, smaller why's, which answer the question: why make these moves here and not those moves there?
A big mistake many organisations make is only focusing on the first type of why (“We want to do X”) while completely ignoring the second type of why. They get dragged down into a tyranny of tactics — focusing on who must do what, by when and how — debated endlessly in long, frustrating meetings.
For example, this is a familiar conversation with many organisations:
CEO: We’re doing a Digital Transformation this year!
Us: Great. How are you going to do it?
CEO: We’ll hire a top consultancy, talented people and do it in an agile way
Us: Ok. Why are you doing this?
CEO: (momentarily off guard) Because everyone else is. We can’t fall behind
Us: That’s not a great answer is it?
CEO: (visibly annoyed now) What do you mean?
Us: There are multiple moves you can make. Multiple WHEREs you can attack
CEO: (confused) What do you mean?
Us: You have your why of purpose (you want to win so you’ve chosen the digital transformation path!). But what about all the other paths you could take that would lead to victory? Rather than copying everyone else because you’re scared of falling behind you could try to discover better ways forward.
Because if everyone is doing a digital transformation at the same time then the costs of staff and technology are going to rise, making it an expensive option. And, even if you manage to digitally transform, it won’t give you any strategic advantage because everyone else is doing it as well.
So, do what leaders do — find better moves, so you can explain to your people “we’re making these move here and not those there because …”. You’ll then get more buy in, better execution and an improved chance of success.
CEO: Could you repeat that?
Us: Ok. Just think — before making any strategic decision:
- WHERE before WHY (where can you make moves)
- WHY before HOW (why these moves over those)
- HOW before WHO/ WHAT/WHEN
If your organisation starts focusing on the second type of why (i.e. where you can move and why there over somewhere else) you’ll avoid endless, empty meetings and improve your chances of out-competing the market.
For this you’re going to need a map. This will help you see the landscape you’re in clearly and where your options for movement are. Don’t skip this!