Entrepreneur’s Diary #82 – So What Exactly is the Meaning of the Word: Strategy?

Well, now I have been an “entrepreneur” for quite a few years, haven’t I? And during all this time, I was “at war with“ the term “strategy“ and what is usually expected from an entrepreneur in terms of “strategic thinking“.

During the numerous strategic meetings I attended (and partly initiated myself), we wanted and were supposed to get a firm grip on the future. Looking ahead, we wanted to find out what the market was going to demand in the future. Which technologies would establish themselves. For instance the internet, which totally surprised me. Incidentally, nobody ever predicted its future.

And all the time, we were looking for new ideas, even visions. In order to make the enterprise a success, even in the future. Mind you, we knew well enough that a vision is something not too far removed from an illusion or a hallucination.
My entrepreneur’s super ego kept expecting a “good strategy” from me. And I felt I had to do something I was not at all qualified to do:

Make assumptions with respect to the future and then come to the right conclusions based on these assumptions.

🙂 But, basically, the future is something that lies ahead, and it is rather difficult (impossible) to predict developments, especially if said developments are in the future. You will not even need disruptive events.

Assumptions about the future are more often wrong than correct. To be sure, I know from logics that it is quite possible to come to correct conclusions even if your assumptions have been wrong. In particular if both an assumption and the conclusion thereof are wrong, something correct can be the result. With luck, you might even win a bet on the future. Except that this is by no means a certainty and, to me, this procedure always seemed lacking in respectability.

Consequently, I always felt rather uncomfortable during strategic meetings. Regardless, we often had quite reasonable results. Those reasonable results, however, were not because we had achieved our goals and developed a vision. They rather happened because we had discovered problems during intense discussions. It actually helped that we solved them.

During the last Zürich RISE meeting, I was introduced to another, for me new, definition and interpretation of the word strategy by Dr. Simon Grand. I immediately listened:

“How an organization moves forward”.

It seems that this definition is by Richard Rumelt and was given a few decades ago.

I rather like this definition, because it contains three important elements:

  • Organization:
    Organization is something “collective”.
  • Moves:
    Movement suggests processes that take place and can or even must undergo change.
  • Forward:
    Forward shows that there are uncertainties, because it is about the future.

Following this definition, the word strategy acquires a totally new meaning. It is all about routines, rituals, symbols and behavioral patterns in an enterprise. We have to re-evaluate them. Are they still fitting? Or are they, perhaps, antiquated?

How can I change them without harming the enterprise? How can I change them and strengthen the enterprise?

Now this is all about changing the “entrepreneurial world“ and the tools and methods used therein. About behavioral patterns with respect to how things are done in the enterprise. About the success formulae our employees use internally and externally.

And here I am, discovering a method to “develop my own strategy”!

I look for problems that might linger inside the organization of the “social system enterprise“. That alone is already quite a creative challenge. And as soon as I found the real problems, I am well under way towards developing an “actual strategy“, deciding what I can try to change in my entrepreneurial world.

The definition, however, also implies that “leadership has to be collectively supported”. Now I understand young and bold entrepreneurs who are “proud to have no strategy”. Mind you, their enterprises are literally brimming with innovation. Innovation might well be invention plus realization – and do you really need a strategy for that?

Strategy is no witchcraft designed by lonely heroes in their quiet laboratories that afterwards has to be introduced to the world. Strategy is collective change in an enterprise that preserves and increases the chances of survival for said enterprise.

(Translated by EG)

Click here for more articles of my entrepreneur’s diary Drehscheibe.

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