This is cross-posted from the Made by Many blog. It’s a post about strategy, written with these assumptions in mind:
Lots of marketing strategists are increasingly interested in product innovation.
More and more innovation companies will adopt Lean methodologies.
Migrating strategists will have a massive shock and appreciate some tips.
You’ll be relieved to note that this isn’t a philosophical post. It’s a practical one. Because after all, we’re interested in making things, which means less talking and more doing…
Everything that follows falls out of one simple belief: the less we know about the future, the less time we should spend guessing without trying. This doesn’t mean ‘not planning’. It means rapid, potent planning, woven into shorter development cycles with regular testing in the wild.
Here are the three things you should exercise as a strategist in this environment:
1. Holistic Involvement
Strategists and Planners have long championed the broadening of knowledge, but more often than not, it’s applied to generate better, more original guessing. When you’re exploring strategies through the act of making, you need a deeper, more practical appreciation of technology and design. You’re probably used to a process where technology is how you achieve something, but it is also why you achieve it.
Detach ‘can we do it?’ and ‘should we do it?’ conversations at your peril. Work intimately with technologists and designers, instead of ocassionally asking for their conclusions. You will not understand the implication of every nuance, so be there when they arise. The less you know, the less use you are.
2. Actionable Reasoning
One of the most toxic traps a strategist can fall into is becoming a good convincer: creating a persuasive, intellectual fog between reality and execution, and transforming bystanders into insecure, nodding fools. You’re not clever if you manage to sell the wrong idea, so beware of the power to convince — it should be results that convince and nothing else.
Divorcing strategists from the execution process has fuelled some of this negative behaviour. But with an emphasis on making and testing, combined with short development cycles, strategic input must not only be devoid of illusion, it must empower the team to act - with minimum friction and maximum value. Learn something from designers. Like them, your job is to quickly manifest collective thinking in a form others can recognise, understand and help to progress.
3. Responsive Guidance
With shorter cycles, you need to be less precious than you’ve been in the past. No locking yourself away until you ‘have the answer’. Use the straw man approach, move things forward faster, in smaller bursts. Retain malleability. Prototyping and testing can expose new problems and opportunities several times a day. You have to help the team and the client adapt constantly, and maintain purposeful shape as the edges of previous assumptions are frayed.
If you can demonstrate these three qualities then everything else will follow. The only other thing to say is that in this environment, you don’t own the strategy. I mean, you don’t own it even more than you currently don’t own it. The better the job you do, the more ownership the whole team will feel they have over it. It’s refreshing. I promise.