My wife Deana teaches French.
She is a language teacher, a real one. Unlike a native speaker who can’t explain grammar better than by responding “that’s just the way we say it” (that would be me), she can go to the root of things. She can really teach French. She will make anyone love wrestling with the 1,000 exceptions and absurd rules of French.
She teaches French not because her purpose is to help you deal with “subjunctive”. She does it because she knows she will impact the life of her students in a way that can be profound.
Her manifesto is a quote by Federico Fellini: “A different language is a different vision of life.”
For Deana, a language is more than a set of tools meant to solve translation problems. It is also a chance to interpret your context with a new perspective, so you can thrive. For her, language is about adaptation.
Strategy is the same as language
Just like a language, strategy is the art of translating what you see in your industry, so you, your clients, and your team can find a better solution to adapt to changes and thrive.
Strategy should help you decode a problem to go beyond and provide context before you can even solve it.
What skipping strategy does
If you’re jumping from problem to solution, you’re completely missing out on the reframing power of strategy. You might fix something, but perhaps not the right thing. That’s a big problem.
- People have 99 problems already, and they don’t want another one.
- Highlighting people’s problem tends to make them defensive and it creates an emotional barrier between you and them.
If all Deana did was to focus on solving grammar problems with her students, they would hate her, and she’d be quickly out of a job.
Instead, talk about change
What if you focused on explaining the change around, and the risks of not adapting to it?
Your interpretation provides context and meaning. It will also create more engagement for your team and your customers.
The pace of change is probably forcing your organization or product to take a specific path. What is the inevitable, undeniable, irreversible change?
This matters because we humans will work in new ways if we understand that adaptation is non-negotiable.
Why Amazon killed Sears
One of my clients was telling his strategic story during a keynote on the importance of innovation.
He used the example of Sears vs. Amazon in the mid 90’s to show how a company (Sears in this case) can completely neglect a change in their industry – namely e-commerce.
By doing so, he demonstrated to his audience what they stood to lose if they resisted innovation in their own organization. He took an example and translated it to create a different vision of their own context.
As a result, people went “OK, we don’t want what happened to Sears to happen to us”. They rallied around the value of innovation, instead of arguing about their lack of action.
If people aren’t spending energy debating whether they have a problem or not, they can more easily move onward to thinking about how to solve for the future.
How you know you’re speaking strategy
Take a good hard look at yourself.
If you’ve written something like this: “Our treatment of customer service requests is horrendous”,
Think about changing it to this: “Most of us know that our customers’ expectations have completely changed.”
By the way, notice how the new version sounds more like the beginning of a story, the story about your strategy.