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I read this on the Harvard Business Review blog. It’s by Roger Martin:
“Corporate strategists often struggle with strategic options. First, there’s a lot of worrying about what they have to come up with to make the proposed option credible: they spend hours on SWOT analyses and spreadsheets, which gives them reasons to kill their ideas at worst and can slow down the process of coming up with ideas at best.
Then there’s the existential angst: is my option kind of silly and I will be laughed at for offering it up? A lot of ideas die then and there. Even if strategists do come up with a well argued idea, they may still worry about treading on other people’s toes, and quietly consign it to the dustbin. And after all that soul searching, they may just end up with an idea that’s just too sensible to be interesting, and so they kill it.”
I’m not a corporate strategist — I facilitate strategic sessions though. And I sometimes use storytelling to clarify people’s thinking.
Martin continues: “My solution? Think about a strategic options as being just a happy story about the future. It doesn’t have to be right and it doesn’t even have to be sensible. It just has to result in your organization being in a happy place in the future. In fact, if it were absolutely right and utterly sensible, your company would probably already be doing it.
The only real requirement is that it be a happy, aspirational story. If it isn’t happy, it isn’t worth being an option in the first place.
If every participant tells one another a happy story, the group will have a wonderful list of options — and quite quickly, because participants won’t feel that they have to work super hard and be terribly careful and be highly logical. The standard on all of those dimensions is brought way down. Meanwhile, the creativity is elevated way up — because these are just stories; happy stories.”
When you have assembled the happy stories/options, you can then begin to deploy the most important question in strategy: what would have to be true?
That is the dead-easy way to produce great strategies.”
So says Roger Martin. I’ve found this kind of thing works — not only in creating future scenarios, but also to understand the present. I often get a team to draw their journey on a huge piece of butcher paper, using coloured pastels.
It’s a quick way of building understanding and consensus.