I was in a brief planning conversation about the strategy for an upcoming program. Someone had decided an element of the program had to be “big” to attract customer attention. The challenge was the budget and time necessary to arrange something “big” to attract customer attention would not permit meeting other important planning deadlines. All in all, there was a need to resolve contradictory assumptions within the constraints being faced.
Suppose you're faced with a similar strategy problem where a variety of apparently necessary strategic variables are not all going to fit together successfully into a strategy. What is a strategic thinking exercise you can use to resolve the contradictions?
A fantastic technique in these situations is to use a two-question strategic thinking exercise to clarify the objective and challenge assumptions.
- Step 1 of the strategic thinking exercise is to clarify what the objective really is by asking, "What are we trying to achieve?" Pushing for an honest answer to this question can get you to a much needed strategic foundation on which to continue the conversation.
- Step 2 is to then challenge assumptions individually about what’s required and what isn’t by asking, "What if we eliminated that strategic assumption?”
In this example, the objective wasn’t really having a “big” element. The objective was getting customers to attend the event. With that clarification to the objectives, it was then easier to challenge the assumption that a big attraction was the only way to get customers to attend.
With that strategic foundation in place, we explored a whole variety of other strategies that could be used to attract people based on surprise, intrigue, and affiliation. In working through these possibilities, we identified missing information we needed to gather to make a decision. We also identified an alternative strategy for inviting people that allowed us to meet planning deadlines and incorporate suspense to engage potential attendees in new ways.
The short question-based discussion allowed us to resume making positive forward steps.
Try this two-question strategic thinking exercise (clarifying the objective, then trying to eliminate contradictory assumptions) whenever you feel like you’re in an unsolvable situation. Most likely, you’ll get to a workable solution that the original strategic assumptions would have blocked. - Mike Brown
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