Novelty, tension and the pursuit of better;

how to build a "REAL" business strategy

There’s no such thing as mandatory education.

You either want to learn, or you don’t. In addition, education isn’t just learning in school. I had a colleague I attended my graduate degree at this liberal arts university along the East Coast. After completing his MBA, he was off to one of the Big 5 consulting groups. Sure, I was jealous. It would have been my dream job. But that’s how life goes.

Six months later, he called me up out of the blue. “Bro, I’m dying here. I thought University was the hard part. I’ve worked harder and learned more in the last six months than my two years at H@$%@$@! I want to quit.” He was looking for advice in his roundabout way.

I simply replied, “You’re in your dream job, and now it’s not your dream job. It’s your job. So do your job. The question isn’t should you quit, and it should be why would they not want to let me go.” I waited for him to retort.

“Yeah, but I’m replaceable, we are all replaceable.”

There it is. “True, until you’re not. Think about our business strategy case study, that valuation one. We had the losing team. Did we give up? No. We thought of a solution that no one else could see. If you think you’re replaceable, then you lose. But if you see your own potential, people will start to notice. Good or bad, you’ll make an impression. You’re a smart guy. Everyone there is smart. What you need to be is the creative guy.”

Background Preface: In school, we reenacted a private sale and valuation of a company that occurred 20 years ago. We knew our team had no chance on winning with the price option we were allowed to pay. Worse still, our group was the only one who couldn’t pair up with another team to raise our offer. The deck was stacked against us and we still won.

“Yeah, you’re right, I just don’t know how to do that.”

“Well, complaining about it and not even explaining how you’ve tried is probably an indication of your amount of effort.” Sure, I was taking slight jabs, but that’s what artists do, their art is subjective, reactionary. If there’s no reaction, is there really any art?

“Man, I miss talking to you. You’re right. Mind if we start planning a strategy?”

“Sure, I charge $75/hr, US, none of the exchange rate stuff.”

“Wait, you’re going to charge me?” He was shocked.

“Wait, you’re going to call me out of the blue and ask me to plan your strategy for you with nothing in return? Advice is free. Doing the work for you, that’s a different story.” This is where the line was drawn. I never said he was a friend, but a colleague. I also forgot to mention how, during that case, I did the majority of the work, because I saw a vision and believed in it. After graduation, I chose to move back and be close to my family. His family’s affluent nature landed him a role at my dream job.

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Sure, I could be bitter, and to an extent, I am. But I also felt validated. I’m the guy he decided to call for advice, that means a great deal to me. Plus, I ended up getting paid and thanked. A month later, I sent him a gift to his office with a wax-sealed note. Inside the note, it just said, “Congrats on the success, learn to share.” H. Gatsby.

This anecdote was meant to share a few core concepts of building a business strategy or a personal one.

  1. You can’t force a strategy to be built, their needs to be a desire.
  2. You can’t do it alone; collaboration is key.
  3. Business strategy is not a series of tactics. It’s a statement of your value.
  4. Have patients and humility.
  5. Strategy is a conversation, a focus, a movement and a plan.
  6. Reward your clients. They’ll appreciate sincere gestures and see-through generic gifts. For my example, I knew my colleague was a Gin fan, so I purchased a bottle of Gin from my hometown, drove over the border, purchased a bottle of Gin produced near his parents’ hometown, and sent them both with the note to his office. To his peers, he looks valued by a client. To his co-workers, he looks important. Everyone wins.
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Here’s how we built his business strategy.

Kevin’s Wicked Awesome Self-Improvement Strategy that You’re jealous of. This is actually what I named my strategy.

  • Situation Analysis: What is the problem? This is the most important part of any strategy. Ask yourself what you think the problem is. Then ask why. Answer that. Then ask why. Answer that too. After you guessed it, ask why again, answer, why again, answer, and finally ask why a 5th time and answer it again. By the time you’ve broken down the five why’s, you’ll see the clearer issue at hand.

  • Objectives: What are you trying to achieve? What does success look like? This is a loaded question and always takes a while to answer. For our KWASISTYJO strategy, we focused on key personal attributes, mainly how to improve time management, how to see problems differently, how to leverage his credibility to raise the status and how to be genuine. He wasn’t the most considerate of people. However, in step 1, he realized this on the 4th why. You’ll notice in step 1, much of step 2 gets answered and acted on.

  • Strategy: Once you know the problem and what success will look like, you connect the dots. In this stage, we prototyped personas of Kevin based on his personality, behavioural nudges (I didn’t tell him that’s what we were doing) and suggestive emotional triggers. Through our mock scenarios, I’d represent executives, clients and co-workers. I even called up some of his past clients, chatted with co-workers when they flew into Toronto and a few Ivey contacts who’ve worked at the firm. I was genuine, told them what I was doing and left out Kevin’s name, should someone find it as leverage. In the end, we saw that Kevin now and Kevin he wanted to be were virtually the same person, but his values and vision needed a bit of rationalization.

    Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, Kevin would specialize and dive into what he loved and would be motivated to do.

  • Tactics: A strategy is a vision, whereas the execution is tactics. Think of your strategy as the who and why. Your tactics become the what and how. Tactics are replaceable, easily imitated and often duplicated. Tactics work, and sometimes fail. The key is to learn from each tactic and see what works and what doesn’t. Just because a tactic fails, it doesn’t mean you abandon your strategy. You learn and adapt. (learn and adapt; every consultant should get a tattoo of that. We could be like the Marines, just not as cool or hardcore.)

  • Action Plan: If the tactics are the what and how, the action plan is……self-explanatory. The process was a bit mechanical at first, but as any consultant can admit, change is difficult. The trick we found was to track progress, review, learn and repeat. If a tactic didn’t work, we didn’t just abandon it, we brought it back into the strategic plan, reviewed and  would continuously try to improve on the tactic. We worked until we found a process that fits just right. I call this the crash and burn (from the movie Hackers 1995, where two hackers team up and illustrate one of the best film montage sequences from the ’90s). I’m a bit of a nerd for pop culture.

  • Review and Iterate: The final step isn’t really a final step at all. The idea of review and iteration is needed at all steps. You don’t get the right answer on the first try. You can good a good answer or even a great answer, but improvements are always needed. This strategy will be continuous and ever-evolving. If you expect to use the same tactics your entire life and expect the same results, you’re going to be sadly mistaken. The strategy also evolves, but at a much slower pace.

In the end.....

Kevin has had a great career, and I see his social presence every once in a while. But I rarely ever hear from him, and that’s a good thing. It just means he found his vision and is building towards it.

This is where I should be playing Bryan Adams summer of 69 as I conclude this rather lengthy anecdote. 

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