A beginners guide to navigating the world of strategy

Akhilesh

Akhilesh

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Michael E. Porter, American  economist and founder of strategic management.
  1. A desire to achieve something is not strategy – It is an aspiration.
  2. An idea without actionable steps is not strategy – It is a thought.
  3. A plan without a tangible outcome is not strategy – It is hoping for the best.

There is no lack of definitions on the internet as to what strategy actually means. Simply put, strategy is a set of deliberate and actionable activities to achieve a long term goal or overall aim.

A Plan Is Not a Strategy

Buzzwords in Brand Strategy!

Blog about strategy

Common buzzwords thrown around in strategy

  1. Corporate strategy – It is a traditional method that businesses and corporate entities use to identify, plan and achieve their business targets to gain a competitive advantage over other market participants while delivering both on customer/client and stakeholder promises
  2. Design thinking – It is an iterative process in which you seek to understand your users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions which you can prototype and test. The overall goal is to identify alternative strategies and solutions that are not instantly apparent with your initial level of understanding.
  3. Design strategy – It is the intersection of corporate strategy and design thinking, where we try to understand and build the most suitable solution to a problem that is preventing a business from achieving its objective. 
  4. Branding – It is the process of giving a meaning to a specific organisation, company, products or services by creating and shaping a brand in its consumers’ minds. It is a strategy designed by organisations to help people quickly identify and experience their brand, and give them a reason to choose their products over the competition’s, by clarifying what this particular brand is and is not.
  5. Brand strategy – It lies in the intersection of branding, marketing, design thinking and corporate strategy.
Person confused about brand strategy

When you’re first starting out in strategy, it’s not uncommon to come across these words and their variations. Don’t let them overwhelm you!

In essence, these terminologies mean the same thing; Make a plan, try to stick to it, and along the way, you’ll get to assess whether the plan is succeeding or failing. If it succeeds – do more of it efficiently. If it fails – mitigate the situation, understand what went wrong in your plan, and go back to square one.

The strategy mindset

5 Elements of a Strategy Mindset

  • Taking the long view
  • Starting from the context 
  • Challenging the conventional wisdom
  • Making sense through synthesis
  • Being purposefully optimistic

The idea of a strategy mindset is easily understood but learning how to cultivate one is the journey all great leaders must go on.

Brand Strategy Puzzle

Observing without judgement

Why it’s hard

We don’t want to give up what we already have, even though something else might be a lot better, because familiar ignorance feels better than unfamiliar awareness. 

Identifying the need for building a strategy requires you to first admit that a problem exists. The ability to observe a situation without judgement but with honesty and empathy will give you a chance to analyse your assumptions and their origins.

Why it’s important – Objective reality vs subjective reality

Perception Is Not Reality

Just because you think something is reality doesn’t make it reality.

“The highest form of human intelligence is to observe yourself without judgement.”

iddu Krishnamurti, Philosopher, speaker and writer.

Everyone has two realities –

  1. Objective reality – (The world out there) is “existence as such”. The world of facts. Independent of anyone’s thoughts, opinions or feelings. Knowledge of objective reality is gained by the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.
  2. Subjective reality – (The world in here) is the inner world of the mind. The world of emotions and feelings. It is composed of one’s own thoughts, opinions, judgements and emotions.

Understanding and managing the influence of your assumptions on your decisions is important, as no one is fully capable of being unbiased all the time, but understanding that your subjective feelings must conform to objective facts is even more important.

Your feelings do not change the facts, and a refusal to accept a fact doesn’t make it disappear. 

An actionable step would be to actively abstain from forming judgements based on the knowledge you have, until you have gathered all the information you need to make an informed decision.  

STOP JUDGING IF YOU WANT TO BECOME A STRATEGIST

To connect the dots better, learn to observe them without judgement, attachment or expectations. History is filled with companies and organisations who couldn’t see beyond what they made. Sadly, despite being early innovators and market leaders, they’re no longer around today.”

Chris Do, Thefutur

When people without strategic mindsets develop and execute strategies without considering all the facts, a lot of resources are wasted.

Ever heard of Blockbuster?

Good strategy vs Bad strategy

The first step to becoming a strategist is understanding that we use strategy everywhere, all the time. It is intentional in some places and unintentional in many more. For example, we use it intentionally in business to identify, plan and achieve growth, and unintentionally while ordering food at a restaurant for a noisy table of 12. 

A good strategy would be to remember that you’ve already ordered 8 starters along with the main course, and curb your urge to order the beautiful, tantalising and perfectly medium rare steak that just got served to the table next to yours.  

A bad strategy would be to give into your craving, order and later rationalise that at least one colleague on the table owns a fridge in which the leftovers could be kept. But in reality, you’d find the leftovers in the office trash bin a few days later.

Oh common! How much of a difference does it make?

It might not make much of a difference when the expenditure is on a restaurant dinner, but shift the perspective to a business, and you’re burning precious resources, that could have otherwise been used more productively.

What worked for me

Understanding strategy through daily life

Strategy helped me realise that I need to strike a balance between client delivery, and my purpose as a designer in the world. How do I inject enough of myself into a project, and still achieve the client’s vision? How do I come up with solutions that are aligned to their strategy? How can my design strategy aid their corporate strategy? I’m still figuring these out, but Strategy can not only help you in the big bad world of biznaz, but also in your personal life.

As a designer, my perspective was isolated to visual design for the longest time, until I realised the role of strategy in design, and in turn my life. The problems I faced before realising this, could have been solved quickly, had I known what I know now.

Wanting vs doing

If you find yourself wanting something month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens and you never come any closer to it, then maybe what you actually want is a fantasy, an idealisation, a false promise. Maybe what you want isn’t what you want, you just enjoy wanting. Whether it’s the weight you want to lose, or that girl you want to ask out, or that promotion you’ve been gunning for, goals without strategy are dreams. Unfulfilled dreams eventually turn to poison and resentment.

STOP THINKING AND START DOING! We often get caught up in our own heads with planning and thinking, so much so that it leads to over complicated ideas and unrealistic goals. These ingredients lead to strategy that smells nasty. When such strategy is implemented, it can cause a lot of blockage in the system.

Outcomes of realistic strategies

As I mentioned earlier, the need to formulate a strategy arises when you have a real problem to tackle. My most recent problem was that I couldn’t translate my conceptual strategy into visual design. 

I knew what the problem was. It was time to identify the specifics. 

When I analysed where I was going wrong, it dawned on me that I was getting stuck in my own head trying to replicate a thought. Feedback was missing. 

My colleague helped a lot in this area. Being able to bounce off ideas and get feedback on your thoughts helps you get out of your head and back to earth.

I was able to do this because I was honest with myself about where time was wasted the most.

Comparison kills

Achieving personal growth and success is often accompanied with comparisons. Whether it’s to your idol, colleague, loved one, or friend, drawing comparisons can have deadly consequences on your growth mentality. In this area, Jordan Peterson’s  strategy worked well for me – “Your only point of comparison for personal growth should be to yourself yesterday. Be 1% better than you were yesterday, and in three years, you’ll be a whole different person”. 

The deeper meaning that can be derived from this is that you shouldn’t set goals for yourself that are unconquerable, because the tendency to procrastinate a hard task is higher when compared to an easy task. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but at the same time, make sure to not make the same mistakes you made yesterday. Maintain a steady course of gradual improvement and set small realistic, and achievable goals.

To Summarise, What Is Strategy? It’s a Lot Simpler Than You Think


Want to build your brand strategy?

Reach out to us at Everything Design if you want to establish a brand strategy that will help you stand out from the crowd and carry your brand to its full potential. We are a branding and design agency, and we’d love to have a conversation to understand your brand’s needs and provide professional advice.


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