Strategic Mindset Part II: Making Meaning

July 18, 2018 Joe Britto

Last time I introduced the concept of a strategic mindset. If you missed it, you can find the blog here.

This time I’d like to start thinking about the three steps of seeing the dots, connecting the dots, and making meaning of the dots and what they look like in practice.

Growing a Strategic Mindset: Seeing Dots

If you played along with the challenge from my last blog you may have noticed something. Growing a strategic mindset means shifting our own perspective first.

In the challenge it began by paying attention.

Paying attention to the cultural, business, political, and competitive landscape you operate in. It began by noticing what’s happening.

But more importantly, it began by asking questions about what you noticed.

For example, what did Elon Musk stand to gain by launching a Tesla into space? What are the implications of stoking a trade war?

Those “whats” of my example may or may not relate to your industry. My point is in the areas that affect us, we notice and question what’s happening. That’s step 1: seeing the dots.

Insight vs Bias

If you can do that without deciding what it means immediately, that’s good. Why? Because your knee-jerk reaction to events isn’t a strategic mindset working, it’s your biases.

Your biases argue for why you’re right. Think of them like the smug in-law ever ready to tell you they told you so.

Instead, when you question, see if you can get into the head-space of the person who did the thing you’re questioning. If your answer to your questions is, because they’re terrible/greedy or negative in any way, that’s still your biases talking. That’s because very few people do something they know to be wrong. It may be wrong, but not to them.

If your answer makes sense from someone else’s point of view, then you’re on the right track.

Connecting Strategic Dots

Armed with your answers, the next step is to connect what you’re seeing—connecting the dots if you prefer.

To recap, we’re able to see what’s happening, understand why it’s happening, and see the relationship between one event and another.

For example, Musk says he launched his car into space because science is sometimes just about having fun. OK, sure Musk is rich, but is he really that rich that he can throw junk into space? Or is there something more?

Well, SpaceX is a new(ish) player in the space game (dot 1). Musk knows that positioning SpaceX as new, daring, innovative, and fun is important to win the hearts of public perception (dot 2).

SpaceX likes to portray itself as a viable rival to space incumbents (dot 3). How true is that? Well, if viability equals profitability then according to the Wall Street Journal, SpaceX isn’t viable. What the Journal tells us is no matter how much revenue SpaceX records, it’s not earning much profit from that revenue (dot 4).

But what if viable means innovative and accurate engineering? We fall short there too. After all, even SpaceX’s own calculations of the trajectory of the roadster turned out to be wrong.

By launching a Tesla into space, and by creating the social media and news headlines that it garnered (dot 5), Musk successfully positioned SpaceX as relevant, an outsider and the space company of the people (dot 6).

Think that’ll help to raise SpaceX’s figurative and literal stock? Yes, me too. That my friends is a strategic mindset at work.

Making Meaning of Dots

Seeing and understanding what a competitor is doing allows us see the gaps and possibilities in our own strategy.

And that’s how we use our strategic mindset to inform our strategy.

Often there’s very little value in going head to head with a competitor on their terms. Launching a new soft drink? Positioning yourself as the drink that makes the whole world sing is an uphill battle.

Seeing and understanding the business and cultural landscape means you can carve out a niche for your drink that’s hard for a global company to compete with—an anti-establishment image that rocks the status quo for example.

That’s what making meaning is. It’s the ability to take what you see and understand and use it in the development of your strategy.

Strategic Mindset, Strategic Leader

Is this beginning to sound tough?

That’s because the shift from focusing on executing a plan to developing a rounded and informed strategy is tough.

It takes a shift in thinking. In its early stages that alone can make it uncomfortable.

If that’s the case, why would we want to do it at all?

Being a strategic leader doesn’t just make us more successful. It does something else.

Being a strategic leader is needed because in an uncertain world, the only way to lift ourselves out of fire-fighting mode; and lead in an ever-changing business, political, and financial landscape is to see the events happening around us. That allows us to understand where those events are heading, and to incorporate that knowledge into the planning for our business.

That isn’t a nice to have anymore. In today’s world, it’s the definition of leadership.


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