What assumptions are you betting your future on?
If the last year has taught us nothing else, it is that our lives can quickly change in ways we never seriously considered possible (outside of a movie script). If we cast our minds back just a year, even the most connected and creative souls were unlikely to have accurately predicted the colossal global impact of all that was about to unfold (although the first tendrils of disruption had already been unfurling for some time).
In ‘normal’ times, most of us go about our daily lives on autopilot to some degree. This amazing ability, to navigate the world with little conscious thought, serves us relatively well when our environment is stable, but it can lead us into great harm and cause us to miss or disregard subtle signs that fundamental changes are afoot.
But, what is ‘normal’ really? A lot of what we considered to be ‘normal’ just a year ago would have been unimaginable just a century previous, and perhaps unforeseeable a mere decade ago. It can be argued that our attachment to ‘normal’ does us few favours and leads us to make some rather unhelpful (and unstable) assumptions.
Years ago, my boss at a major retail bank would often be heard to say ‘never assume anything – it makes an ass out of u and me’… it was a cheesy line and we’d all roll our eyes, but his intent was sound. He wanted us all to remain curious and to ask questions, even when it felt really difficult to do so (when it felt most awkward, was exactly the time he encouraged us to double down on this effort and to expose the lurking issues concealed behind a veneer of denial or avoidance).
Strategic conversations tend to be rooted in current reality and many strategic plans (personal or organisational) plot relatively rigid paths for a period of 3 to 5 years (enough time for a whole lot of change to happen).
Their foundations are based on a number of assumptions. Assumptions that the strategic context will remain relatively unchanged or will evolve along a path made predictable through data modelling or trend extrapolation. But the world just doesn’t work like that – and, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know it doesn’t.
If we dare to dig a little deeper, we often find that all is not well. More often than not, assumptions that constitute the foundations of a strategy are already questionable, unstable, weak at best – teetering on poorly understood historical cycles, a failure of imagination and a low understanding and appreciation of human behaviour.
How supple is your strategy - could it still deliver success if its foundations suddenly turned to sand? Are you watching for the first signs of erosion? Do you have alternative paths (even destinations) in mind?
The conversations with have about strategy need to change. Do your strategy a favour and ask yourself (and your colleagues) these 5 questions (and be truly open to hearing the answers)...
- Who takes part in your strategic dialogue – how inclusive is it really (or is it the usual suspects)?
- What must be true for your strategy to deliver success – what assumptions remain well-hidden in your plans?
- What do you think is true about the external environment – and when did you last test these beliefs?
- What signals of change are you watching out for – who is doing this, how are they doing it, and how often?
- How are you currently being disrupted, how might you be disrupted soon, and where are you planning to disrupt?
Strength can be found in suppleness. Supple strategy demands an alternative way of thinking, a more inclusive conversation, a greater willingness to ask awkward questions and to challenge entrenched perspectives.