“Can you give me an example of a really great or a really bad strategy?”
This post is brought to you courtesy of a radio interview that I recently did where this very question was posed to me. I hate this question. And, in this week’s episode, I thought I would tell you why.
When I released my book back in 2015, I had the opportunity to participate in some 20+ radio interviews. In more than a handful of them, this question was asked to me. And each time it was asked, I was equally uncomfortable in my response. Why? Because it plays right into that darned imposter syndrome that I tend to feel from time to time.
I mean, if I can’t answer a question as simple as this, what business did I have writing a book on strategy in the first place? Shouldn’t I have had at least a handful of stories about how I helped some company or another become the next Apple? Or the next Amazon? Or the next Google? What good is my process if I can’t point to at least one concrete example where I used it to turn around some multi-gazillion dollar company?
Of course, all of this was just in my head. I’m sure the respective interviewers honestly just wanted to hear some of the stories that I had to tell. Nobody was testing my credibility – they were just trying to fill air time. But, in my mind, the stories that I had to share couldn’t possibly be interesting enough to cut it on national radio. So, instead of sharing what I knew, I pretty much avoided the question altogether.
Fast forward 3 years later and I’m still doing the occasional radio interview. And this question, in some form or another, is still being asked. But now I’m a little bit wiser, and a little bit more confident in the work that I’ve been doing. It is no more “sexy” than it ever was before, and I still haven’t helped to create that “next big thing” that everyone knows about. But the work that I’m doing (and, more importantly, the people that I’m doing it with) is really important. And that’s the main point I’d like to get across today.
Keep in mind that I typically help product managers, marketing managers, and sales managers develop strategies for the individual portfolios, markets, and channels that they manage. These are the parts of a company that most strategy consultants (and many companies for that matter) tend to forget. But these are also the functions that are responsible for creating some of the most important and pivotal strategies within any given business. Their strategies are for products that most people have never heard of. They result in incremental revenue, margin, and share gains that most people would never get excited about. But, when you put all of these strategies together, they represent tremendous gains for companies as a whole. The stories by themselves may not be anywhere near as interesting as hearing about how Apple got started. But they are still incredibly important.
The main point is this: Just because a strategy isn’t grandiose, it doesn’t mean it isn’t essential. In this world of social media and social sharing and everyone trying to outdo one another with the most outrageous and overinflated story that could ever be conjured, we can’t forget the critical work that people are doing at every level of every company. Not every product, marketing, or sales manager is going to change the world single-handedly. But, collectively, all of the product, marketing, and sales managers in existence (along with all the other functions for that matter) are going to change far more of the world than any one individual ever has or ever could. That is the work I am helping people to do. These are the strategies I am helping people to create. And we should all be very, very proud of that – even if nobody else knows what the heck we’re talking about when we go to tell our individual stories!
So, the next time I’m asked this question on air, that is the answer I hope I can remember to give. Either that, or I will talk about the strategy that I helped implement for a product manager who was able to increase her sales by 25% on a part that was used in an industrial pump for an application that nobody has ever heard about.
And if that doesn’t make for good radio, then the host is just going to have to deal with it.
Listen to the podcast episode
Dear Strategy: Episode 061
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Bob Caporale is the founder of Strategy Generation Company, the author of Creative Strategy Generation and the host of the Dear Strategy podcast. You can learn more about his work by visiting bobcaporale.com.