Who decided strategy was a fixed, once and for all, proposition? Well, whoever that was, I will plead being a woman and an Italian to boot for not reading it.
We do live in the "both/and" age, where the massive number of ideas on this site are both overlooked and not referenced, despite the many links going the other way. Look, here goes another link to the evolution of strategy#, a fine post by Gord Hotchkiss [hat tip Scott Brinker] I'll counter one on the evolution of business from 2008.
The fun part of research is figuring out what you're not looking for, after all.
Good strategy recognizes the nature of the challenge and offers a way to coordinate action and resources to create advantage. Yes, I know it sounds simple.
Strategy also needs to be responsive to innovation and ambition. After spending a few years working closely with user experience design architects, I now just use the short hand Responsive Strategy.
Good thinking in front to identify what we intend to do, we execute so we are aligned with our choices and the experience makes sense across various devices and situations, and then we party in the back by looking at the query set to see how we're doing. Then we iterate based on what we learn.
Strategy as hypothesis accountable to data is a workable definition. Then, Hotchkiss gets it partly wrong:
there seems to be one assumption that I believe is fundamentally flawed, or at least, overly optimistic: that human behaviors can be adequately contained in a predictable, rational, controlled closed loop system. When it comes to understanding human behavior, the capabilities of our own brain far outstrip any algorithmically driven model ever created -- yet we still get it wrong all the time.
Yet we still get it wrong enough times to make it noticeable when we try to predict a future action.
However, it is a miracle how many times our brains, the wet systems inside a hard skull, fire synapses to deliver right answers through deduction, which is incredibly efficient (compare that to a machine that looks up volumes of what is not very fast).
One simple example: say I am showing you a set of flash cards with names written on it. You are to guess the grouping. Ready?
Okay, try and scroll down slowly:
When did you know? At which name? How many reams of data points did you have to sift through to get there?
The other aspect of this conversation that is often overlooked is how we are moving from the information age to the conceptual age, as Dan Pink says in A Whole New Mind, which I am re-reading and marveling at how relevant it still is (published in 2005).
We are still contending with major market forces called abundance -- one could even make the case for an abundance of time, if we recalculate after backing out of debates on influence -- Asia -- still emerging and filled with opportunity -- and automation -- as referenced in the MediaPost article, Fox seems to make the case for total automation in HBR.
How do we manage to emerge from this environment that seems to be close to writing humans off? Through high concept and high touch, says Pink. By developing six areas of competence that happen to be highly human, as in a step above homo sapiens-days.
- Design, an asset above function -- today it's economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging
- Story, an asset above argument -- today it's not enough to marshal an effective argument. Someone somewhere will track down a counterpoint to rebut your point. The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling narrative
- Symphony, an asset above focus and specialization -- there is a new premium in putting the pieces together. What is in greatest demand today is synthesis as in seeing the big picture and, crossing boundaries, being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole
- Empathy, an asset above logic -- the ability to understand what makes people tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others
- Play, an asset above seriousness -- we all need some laughter, games, and humor. Ample evidence supports the health and social benefits of play
- Meaning, an asset above accumulation -- a sense of purpose
We are generation WHY.
Now, what I am not saying anywhere in this post is that data is bad. Fact-based decision making is good, when it is part of a process of discovery, experimentation, and iteration. Life is a game or probability, and yet we are still called to make decisions with imperfect and incomplete information.
In my discussions on strategy with Peter Tunjic, a good person, commercial lawyer, idea inventor, and business designer, among other things, he says:
the point is that to be able to recognise the challenge you need to be able to process what “it” is, where it’s going, and how to steer it.
Approach and tactics are how you steer it but if you don’t know what it is or how it gets direction you don’t know whether your holding the steering wheel, the hand break or the cup holder.
Loosely deconstructed the top of his model looks like this (they have feedback loops so it’s not a bucket theory). The key question is where we are going. The three forces are: 1) intent (the behavior/habit); 2) intend (will/planning); and 3) outrageous fortune (risk/surprise).
Tactics are way down the line and predicated on so many other variables... to rush to tactics/doing verges on the meaningless.
While I understand the merits of debating the finer points of big and small data, and any other marketing topic, I am in favor of recalibrating the general conversation to also include people in it -- us.
No, big data should not replace thinking.
Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effects on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.