New Style Business Strategy

image-4-1Why not write another book, but develop a management game?

I think that nearly everybody will have an idea about business strategy. I also think that many will be doing it, by themselves or with the help of a consultant. It seems that things are pretty well hammered out and easy to do. However, there are still many books, papers, blogs (including this one), etc., being written about business strategy.

There still seems to be something missing. The question is what?

This question has occupied me for a while. The more I think about it the stranger it gets.

When we look back than the word “strategy” enters into use in business in the nineteen 50’s and 60’s. In other words, we already have more than 50 years of experience behind us, and still we seem to be missing something… It even gets more interesting when we look at other strategy arenas, for example the military. Many refer to the military origin of the word “strategy” and there it started being used in the late 18th century. But that’s just the word. Strategy in practice – under whatever word they used for it – is as old as human civilization. Also in ancient Mesopotamia they did strategy. That’s 5000 years ago, and when we take an average of 20 years per generation we are looking at 25,000 generations.

And still there seems to be something missing. The question is what?  

I note a difference in how the military talk/write about strategy and the business world. That something seems to be less missing in the military. If I look deeper into what business is struggling with then it is not the making of a strategy, but doing it. Business seems to struggle with implementing a strategy. Lots of data is analyzed, big data and BIGGER DATA. All sorts of models are being used to make sense out of the data. Graphs and tables are produced. Targets are formulated and KPIs are set… and all perfectly well captured on a 1 slide PPT presentation… and then all turns out different in practice. The image that comes forward is one in which we seem to work on the basis of a makeable and predictable future… and that is not the case.

Eisenhower, the man behind D-Day, already said: In preparing … I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

He wasn’t the first to say this. A Prussian general already said it 100 years before him, and that Prussian also wasn’t the first. Another Prussian already wrote something along these lines 50 year before that. In the military they already know that a strategy is not a rock solid plan. A strategy is taken along into the field. You need to constantly adapt. All seems easy in the plan, but even the easiest things are hard in practice.

Taking a strategy along into its own implementation. That is what it comes down to.

How do we convey this insight? That is the question we asked ourselves at Changing Games. We could write a book, yet another book, but we didn’t want to do that. Implementation is about doing and a game offers to possibility to do something in a safe environment. The military also know that and they practice as if their lives depend in it, and in their case that is literally true.

Games are also about experiencing something as intensely as possible, and still being safe. Conveying an insight happens outside comfort zones while staying clear from panic zones. To get to that sweet spot we use a scenario based on a historic military event. I can imagine that when you read this your first thoughts are… no way that’s possible. That’s the question we also asked and it is not true, it is perfectly possible. In fact when you look into the materials used for teaching the military in strategy then you will find SWOTs, for example, and a lot more that will be very familiar to a business person.

Games are also fun and bring out the competitive edge in each of us. That is why they are above all effective in conveying insights and learning skills. That is why we developed a game and didn’t add another book. It is a historic business wargame for management teams who want, or even need, to get better at doing strategy. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be in control of 120,000 men, if only once in a lifetime!?

Jan-Willem Boots is co-founder of Changing Games

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