Crafting Strategy

Strategy is not a ‘set and forget’ process.

Strategy is a craft and more akin to a work of art than a scientific process.

Scientia in Latin means “knowledge” and scientists organise knowledge in the form of proofs and predictions about the nature of things.

Ars in Latin means skill or “craft” and artists develop skilful means and techniques to create.

As your business environment becomes less and less predictable, it will be handy to have a craftsperson on hand, who can paint you a series of strategy options.

Some options might be:

  1.  Adapting your approach. Take what you do to a new market place or market space. e.g. move your bookstore or bikestore online.

  2. Shaping your market. Promote what you do to existing markets in a way that increases your level of attraction. e.g. McDonalds now sells healthier meals, juices and wraps.

  3. Renewing your strategy.  It may be time to “kill your darlings” and develop new products and offerings based on a new or visionary approach, such as deciding to cannibalise your greatest, but now out of date product. e.g. When Apple introduced the more feature-rich iPhones and iTouches, they ate up sales for their lower-end iPods, including the nano, shuffle and classic series.


Harshness, Unpredictability and Options

There is a wonderful richness in crafting strategy, which is exciting to us at Next Step Consulting and empowering for our clients. We challenge and help our clients to create new open-ended options, when the harshness and unpredictability of their markets starts to change.

By helping clients paint new futures, they become more aware, agile and responsible and they ultimately learn the art of crafting strategy for themselves.

Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy (the harshness and unpredictability) and know yourself (your new open-ended opinions) you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

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The Law of Paradox

Great leaders know that a thing and it’s opposite may both be true.

Whether we are a lover, leader, lawyer, doctor or homeless person, paradoxes exist.


We may have both a deep love and a deep hatred at times for the same person. We love them more deeply than any other and when that love is gone, the fear that replaces it, swells thorough our reaction into a hatred we did not feel was possible. I love my woman so deeply, that sometimes, when fear enters, hatred raises its head. Our shared awareness of this and our willingness to share leadership keeps us great!  We keep encouraging each other to be better team players and great leaders.

A business leader may have the engineering and operations knowledge to control a business process brilliantly and paradoxically has no knowledge about a mission critical supplier’s liquidity, who goes belly up, or a customer disaster that goes viral on social media and all but destroys the reputation of the company.

At times lawyers, who are charged with upholding the application of the law, can be the worst offenders in their private lives. Why? Because paradoxically they know the legal system and have smart colleagues who can successfully defend them if caught out!

I used to run health and wellbeing events for doctors. Often they were overworked and more unhealthy than many of their patients.

After some bigger ‘well-to-do’ audiences left day-long events, I’d collect the unopened and discarded foodstuffs and snacks from under the ballroom chairs and head with a full car boot to the poorest parts of town to hand out food to the homeless. These souls, who had nothing, would just take one cup-of-soup packet or biscuit and say, “I don’t need more than this, please give the other food packets to my brothers and sisters up the block.”  The hungriest ones did not want to take from others, whilst uptown, the overweight ones were still sipping six packs of cans and gorging on doughnuts well into the night, before falling asleep stuffed in front of the cable TV!

If you think you are certain you are a certain way, chances are good that the law of paradox will show you a new level of uncertainty…

Great Leaders thrive in uncertainty. They embrace paradox, take risks, stay aware and navigate in an enlightened way.

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Playing Favourites

To succeed in business it can be prudent to ‘break the rules.’ Our highest personal virtues like equality and justice often fly in the face of superior performance.

If we believe all of our people can do anything or everything, we are deluded. From this deluded place, leaders fall into the trap of wasting too much time helping staff members overcome a weakness, by trying to put back what has been left out, instead of drawing what is left in person to become more.

Instead, why not spend that extra time helping the talented ones?

There are three good reasons why you should:

  1. Your really competent people are often less confident than your less competent people and by playing favourites, your top performers will quickly become the leaders they were born to be.
  1. Rewarding the talented ones can help the less talented ones see what is needed and they will often step up or step out, which ultimately helps your business.
  1. People leave managers, not companies. By not giving regular extra attention to your best people, they will be more likely to leave and leave you with more of the ‘deadwood’. You know the ones. Those below average performers, who will never resign.


Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric used to rank everyone in his entire corporation, based on their performance and then annually fire the bottom 10% of his staff while playing favourites with the top 10% to keep them from leaving.

Jack could then hire fresh talent each year. Talent for Jack was about finding new people with Drive, Cognition or Charisma. He knew the second biggest mistake businesses made was hiring the wrong person for the job.

The biggest mistake businesses make is holding on to those poor performers too long and not building them a golden bridge out of the business, much sooner!

Would you let the bottom 10% of your team go?   What would a 10% injection of ‘new blood’ do for your business?

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Biggest Game in Town

This year, forget ‘The Hunger Games’ and even next year’s Olympic Games. The biggest game to watch during 2015 is the Smart Phone Shopping Game.

In Australia, more than half of all e-commerce purchases are now made from a smart phone. This means your business could quickly fall off the radar in a few short years or even months, if you fail to offer products or services via a mobile shopping cart.

Let me offer some current stats:

  • 90% of Australians (nearly 24 million) live in urban areas.

  • 80% of Australians now shop on the internet.

  • Australia has 30 million registered mobile connections. That’s a lot of smart phones!

  • 45% of Australians have social media accounts. That’s a lot of followers who could become loyal customers!

The best use of social media from a business standpoint is post smart links from your business website to social media, so your followers and ‘friends’ click back to your website, join your tribe or subscribe to your loyal customer updates/emails/apps and shop with you.

Next Steps

So a first step is to make sure your website is smart phone and mobile friendly. Next, place some valuable items for sale in your mobile shopping cart.

Mobile shopping

If you can’t yet fit one of your own products or services into your mobile shopping cart, then sell a third-party product that aligns with what you do and where your business is going. This will keep your head and your business in the game – the biggest game in town!!

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Failing to ask for Help

Some potential clients I meet are used to struggling and keeping their business in Existence or Survival. They never get to business Take-Off, Growth or Maturity. They don’t seem to value outside help and reject it when offered.

I cold-called two retail businesses in a nearby regional town this week offering to help. Two businesses that clearly looked like they could do with some help. One business owner had his eyes and ears open and the other closed. The open owner and I chatted about both his ‘bricks and mortar’ options as well as his internet and mobile shopping presence. Needless to say, he was open to help and I am looking forward to working with him, to get his strategy right and realise the long term gains from his commitment to challenging the status quo.

The other business owner had a narrow and incredibly short term focus and was showing clear signs of decay. The retail space was tired. The shopfront was hopelessly overdue for repainting. The previous owner’s name still visible as cracked and flaky paint.   There was a complete disregard for the digital economy. I paused and noticed the passing trade was clearly heading elsewhere.

I paused to reflect on the contrast.

In my experience, the reason why business owners succeed is because they help others and are willing to ask for and receive help. Business owners who I don’t have as clients or won’t accept help, eventually fail and seem to suffer from a sort of two-part stability bias:

  1. They prefer the status quo in the absence of enough pressure to change it. And if the ultimate pressure to change comes too late, they will have to head back to the drawing board.

  2. They overvalue immediate rewards and under value any long term gains.


These closed, comfortable and sleepy business owners remind of the ‘frog happily swimming in the slowly heating pot’. This frog feels more and more comfy about his situation and with no eye to the future, until the higher temperature means he can no longer swim or hop out!

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Magnificent Leadership

It was Pink Floyd who wrote,

We don’t need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.


I have witnessed my four amazing children as they were educated in a variety of schools, including little Anglican Schools where they were told what to learn, do and say, as well as Reggio Emilia and Steiner Schools, where there were no uniforms, no hierarchy and the teachers (on a first name basis with students) were great facilitators of learning, life skills and helping children to find their own voices.

These experiences through my children’s own eyes have inspired this post. So, here’s what to avoid doing if you want to be a magnificent leader, facilitator and teacher.

(i)  Provide too much information at the start so your team members do not have anything to discover for themselves.

(ii)  Talk way way more than listen.

(iii)  Offer your team your solution instead of encouraging them to formulate a set of possible solutions that excite and ignite them.

(iv)  Stop your team frequently and tell them what you think every 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t wait for the best moment for learning

(v)  Encourage your team to be creative and then restrict them unnecessarily with a lots of rules and guidelines. 

I am sure you are a great leader already. What would it take to be magnificent?
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Sharing Strategy Secrets

1. DIAGNOSIS: When it comes to strategy, the first secret is to think market spaces rather than market places. Define where you want to compete based on an accurate meaningful Diagnosis. In depression filled, uncertain, faster and volatile times, better not to think about market places and industries (e.g. mobile phone industry, retail industry or fishing industry), but rather consider market spaces and arenas where consumers are found (e.g. home and office based mobile technology arenas, on-line shopping platforms or fresh food shopping/dining emporiums).


2. POLICY: Plan to win. The second secret is to set a Guiding Policy that articulates how you intend to win. Your guiding policy should address specifically the trade-offs you are making to create a series of unique competitive advantages. Today’s sources of advantage are transient and setting strategy once and then forgetting about it is a recipe for failure. Check that your Guiding Policy embraces the future opportunities in chosen arenas and reinforces a culture of experimentation, iteration and learning.

3. ACTION: Manage risks. Create a Rapid Action Plan that supports you in moving from one source of competitive advantage to the next. In taking action, risks must be considered, however speed is critical to maintaining a series of transient advantages. The third secret is that accelerated and roughly right actions are superior to no action.

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