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Strategy is NOT X


The world the filled with either bad strategy or imitations of it. As for most things in life, it is easier to identify a terrible version than it is to recognise a good one.

To my surprise, I enjoyed reading Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters. Below are my top learnings from the masterpiece. You can also skip to the bullet point TLDR section at the bottom.

Strategy is not your goals.

When I reflect on my ten-year work experience at start-ups, this lesson hits home. It's astonishing how many times I've seen strategy exposed as a target to hit. I've seen this mistake made by recent graduates to industry veterans. Come to think of it, why wouldn't a company want to grow its MAUs, DAUs, $$$, AUM, FUM. Strategy is the madness towards the destination not the destination itself.

Strategy is not a checklist of things to do.

Echoing the sentiment above, put a ✋ up when you enquired about strategy and in return got an OKRs excel sheet or a product roadmap.

Strategy should not come from a template.

Have you noticed how many strategy presentations look like cookie-cutter consultant work? If you see a template simlar to this that means the CEO was too lazy and hired consultants. I totally agree with Toby here.

Strategy is not a vision statement.

A vision statement is another thing which is thrown around when we talk about strategy. One needs to realise that strategy is not the destination. For example, if you read WellsFargo's mission statement they both

Our vision is to satisfy our customers' financial needs and help them succeed financially

and then Robinhood's S1

As our customers grow their wealth, we believe they will continue to expand their relationship with our platform, providing an increased opportunity to meet their growing financial needs.

They both have almost the same vision. WellsFargo is a bank which wants to remain relevant. Robinhood wants to be bank. The differentiation is the distribution channel and target market of Robinhood's products.

What does good strategy look like?

I am not sure, but it starts with self reflection, which is hard. It is easier to describe a competitor strategy rather than yours. May be it comes from the fact that for human beings, it is easier to recognise how the other entity is different. Compared to the self reflection needed to understand what makes you different.

The exercise of self reflection should be focussed on identifying your strengths, challenges you face and mostly saying NO to different pathways.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book and highly recommend it to you.

TLDR - Summary

  • Figure out your differentiating leverage. Things which you are good at and double down.
  • Focus on the diagnosis of the situation aka identify your challenges.
  • OKR is an strategy-alignment exercise, not a strategy-creation activity.
  • Avoid crank winding exercises like product DVF to set strategy.
  • Strategy is the How NOT the What.
  • More dynamic the situation the more simple objective needs to be.
  • Strategy is mostly about saying NO.
  • Don't know where to start? Start with a list. FOCUS.