Many years ago I learnt the term ‘choiceful’ from an American colleague; he said good strategy was ‘choiceful’ because it eliminated some desirable options.

Books and books and more books have been written on strategy, but ‘choicefulness’ is a keeper – just like Porter’s famous insight that:

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. There’s a fundamental distinction between strategy and operational effectiveness. Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.”

Michael Porter

But in most places – especially organisations with diverse stakeholders like public bodies or national institutions – not doing something is often not an option. Regulators, interested parties, pressure groups, unions, the media, Ministers and more all want to tell you what to do.

So I was delighted to be given a copy of Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. It’s packed with case studies but for the Specialist-Generalist (time poor as we are) here’s a familiar insight:

“A good strategy does more than urge us forward toward a goal or vision. A good strategy honestly acknowledges the challenges being faced and provides an approach to overcoming them. And the greater the challenge, the more a good strategy focuses and coordinates efforts to achieve a powerful competitive punch or problem-solving effect.”

So far so good; but the paragraph I like the most is this one:

“The kernel of a strategy contains three elements: a diagnosis, a guiding policy, and coherent action. The guiding policy specifies the approach to dealing with the obstacles called out in the diagnosis. It is like a signpost, marking the direction forward but not defining the details of the trip. Coherent actions are feasible coordinated policies, resource commitments, and actions designed to carry out the guiding policy.”

And this feels like something a Specialist-Generalist can use…

  • Diagnosis is powerful as it gives the chance to honour diverse perspectives and acknowledge people’s legitimate fears.
  • A guiding policy speaks to one tool governments, politicians and policymakers really understand – say it clearly and it can be so. Campaigners ‘get’ policy too, as it can be aspirational as well as practical.
  • Finally coherent action is about feasible responses, which start to advance the guiding policy and tackle the diagnosis.

In environments where ‘grand strategy’ is hard and rapid incremental change often works better than transformational programmatic leaps, Rumelt gives a us three handy steps to genuine strategic progress.

What’s not to like.

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