Category: Strategic tools

Strategic fortune cookies: A small ritual for 2015

It’s that time again. Are you ready?

It’s time to open The Strategy Blog fortune cookies. If you have done this before, you know how it works. If you are partaking for the first time, welcome; it’s a great moment to pull up a chair and join in.

As every year, there is one fortune cookie waiting just for you. And, as every year, the contents of the cookies are unique and freshly baked for this particular moment.

Inside you will find a message in the form of a brief ritual centered on your business or project —whatever its stage of development. It could be a business of many years or a project that you are in the process of creating.

The small ritual inside each cookie has been especially designed to help you move forward with your project during the course of this year. It will be particularly useful if you are in a moment of feeling stuck, not knowing what your next step should be, or if you simply need a jolt of inspiration to get things flowing in the right direction.

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The three words for 2014—for the existentialist entrepreneur

The year 2014 is made up of days. 365 uncharted, unfilled, wide-open days.

As entrepreneurs and independent professionals, we have, or definitely should have, concrete goals for this year. Earn more, connect to more clients, become a trusted professional within our networks, help the world understand our project’s vision, etc. But how do we really meet these goals? The real results that can be seen and measured by the end of the year depend on what we do every day. It’s the decisions, planning and actions of every single day that build our success. We can look at ourselves as existentialists—each one of us responsible for giving meaning and life to our own projects.

There is a wonderful freedom in professional independence along with heavy doses of fear, doubt and uncertainty. To be able to build strong and lasting enterprises and to keep our objectives clear we need a toolbox that is constantly replenished with new and useful tools.

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A holiday fortune cookie: What’s cooking for you in 2013

Being a creature of both tradition and innovation, the chef at The Strategy Blog has baked a new batch of fortune cookies to celebrate the closing of 2012 and to start the new year cooking with the most enticing ingredients and a pinch of mystery.

The unique recipe of these fortune cookies is especially blended to be eaten by entrepreneurs, free-lancers, artists, small businesses owners and the decision-makers of organizations. They are also easily digested and nutritious for management of large businesses, members of parliament and agents of change.

Because these cookies are only offered once a year, they are carefully cut and baked to offer the savory flavor of reflection topped with a glaze of creative thinking.

If you are not in the mood for reflection or creative thinking at the moment, perhaps you should wait to open yours when your appetite gives you the signal. The cookies have no expiration date and will stay fresh for as long as you need. Only the most natural, local ingredients are used, and they will be housed safely in the digital shelf of this blog — tightly sealed, toasted and crisp.

But if you do have the appetite and curiosity to unveil the fortune that is waiting especially for you, the chef would first like to help you enjoy these cookies to the maximum by telling you the underlying culinary secret in all of the fortunes offered here: The belief that our projects and businesses are extensions of ourselves — of our talent, skills, emotional landscape, blind spots and desires.

The chef believes that the personal is the professional, and it is difficult to separate the two. And with that in mind, how wonderful it is to observe the way we nourish our projects and how they also nourish us. We are, in fact, inseparable.

So enough chit-chat, let’s get on to the fun part.

If you want to open a fortune cookie, first you should contemplate all of the numbers, then, when you are ready, choose the number that tempts you the most. Click on the number, not on the cookie, to open the fortune.

It’s the one meant just for you.

Read, savor and enjoy.

Thank you for being here, dear reader, with me and The Strategy Blog one more year. You are what inspires me to keep writing.

Happy holidays and happy new year!

Jenifer

(Remember, click on the number, not the cookie.)

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The shimmer and shine of failures

Failures. We don’t talk about them much. We don’t put them on our CVs, and we don’t open our cover letter, job interview or project pitch referencing them.

But maybe we should.

Risky? Perhaps.

Sassy? Yes.

Illustrative of our capacity to pay attention, learn and evolve by looking at situations squarely in the eye and having the courage to keep going, this time with more understanding and skill? Definitely.

And the project scouts, headhunters, team builders, above average bosses and great human relations professionals know how very important it is. As a matter of fact, fearless learning from failures could be the most important ability you have.

It goes something like this: if you have any real experience in the work world then you have surely been part of a project that has failed (meaning it didn’t meet objectives, either those formally stated or personally desired). And you know what? That’s great. That’s absolutely perfect. There is no better opportunity to learn—no better opportunity to put your analytical, critical and creative thinking skills to use than to take a failed project apart.

Maybe this is not initially easy for you, and that’s understandable. Here’s what you can do right now. Sit back, push your chair away from your computer a bit or set down whatever screen you have in your hands, raise your eyes upward toward your brows and think: what was the last or the biggest project failure of mine? Not a mistake, not a misstep, not a bad decision, but a true failure. Meaning, you did not do what you set out to do—either with your own money and resources or those of others, it doesn’t matter for this exercise. The only criterion is that the project did not work. Period.

Now that you have that in mind, let any surge of emotion that comes up pass through you like the wind that passes through the leaves of a tree, to then become still and calm again. Spend a few minutes thinking about what went wrong, strategically speaking. No blaming other people. Think objectively and be cool about it. Deconstruct the whole project if necessary; find the parts that were weak, the blind spots, see what was missing or overly abundant. Name it all, honestly. Free of guilt and resentment. Examine it, cut and polish it like a diamond in the rough. Discover its size, dimension, shape and contours and let the opportunity shine so brightly that you become mesmerized by its reflective brilliance. You, my friend, have discovered a treasure.

Why can we learn even more from a failed project than a successful one? Because there is precise and detailed information about the exact type of action, absence, oversight, thinking or strategic misstep that lead a project down the wrong road or a road to nowhere. This information is your treasure. It will turn your strategic toolbox into a treasure chest, and if you do this exercise honestly and with genuine curiosity, you will never ever make those same mistakes again. Your next projects will be strategically clearer and have a greater chance of meeting goals and of being successful.

Still finding this unpleasant? Would you like an example from my bag of experiences? OK, here goes.

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A vision statement in 3 scenarios


Scenario # 1: The island

You are sitting on the cool golden sand of a small beach. Your clothes are wet and tattered but you feel fine. You are not sure how you got there; the last thing you remember is that you were standing on the hull of a large boat looking out over the open sea. You turn around to take in your surroundings; behind you there is thick green jungle and the soft orange of the setting sun. There is no one else in sight. You know somehow that you are alone. This is a deserted island. You feel fine and strangely calm as the light from the sun casts long shadows on the small shells scattered about the beach. You spend time thinking. You think about the people you love, the people that love you. You fantasize about building a hut to live in and eating the fruit from the palm trees. The hours pass, the sky turns a deep apricot, and as you lie down in the soft sand and look up at the sky, you begin to think about your project, your creation, your work.  Your perspective is different, you can see your project from a distance, for the first time. And you begin to see what it gives to the world, how it fits in, how the world will change if you keep going, if you make your project strong. And you feel your face begin to smile at the same time that you have this thought: “the world needs me, the world needs my project”.

In the distance, faintly at first, the sound of a ship’s horn can be heard over the gentle lapping of the waves.

Scenario # 2: The woman

You are in a spacious office with polished wooden floors; there is just you and a woman dressed in a finely tailored suit made of light brown linen. You are sitting across from each other, comfortably, in wide beige upholstered chairs; there is no desk between you. You are in the middle of pitching your project to her; she has the ability to offer you the economic and logistic support you have dreamt of. The woman is listening carefully and attentively to your words as you masterfully describe your project. You stop for a moment, take in a deep breath, center yourself and wait for any question or sign of interest. Your sole audience looks at you with a smile in her eyes, and after a moment of silence she respectfully says, “I like it. I just have one question before I give you my full support: What is your project trying to accomplish in the world?”

Scenario # 3: The circle

You have been invited to a meeting. You walk into a large room with lots of chairs arranged in a wide circle. There are many people there and they begin to each take a seat, casually without haste. As you look around, you begin to recognize many of the faces, and suddenly the realization hits you: you are in a meeting with the world’s most important visionaries, leaders, thinkers and great teachers of all times. There are people of all possible skin tones; they are tall, short, large and small; they are men and women of all different ages. You are sure that some of these leaders could not possibly still be alive, yet here they are together in this room—as if time had no relevance here. And there you are, standing among them; “there must have been a mix-up in the invitations”, you mutter uncomfortably to yourself feeling awkward and out of place.

Following the gestures of the others in the room, you take a seat in the large circle of chairs and sit, very quietly, waiting. Spontaneously and quite naturally, the men and women in the room begin to speak, one by one, taking turns, with all the others listening in silence with great attention and patience. Each person tells briefly and simply his or her vision of how they would like the world to be and how their particular work is striving to achieve that. You begin to feel nervous and fluttery in your stomach; you don’t like this type of exercise. However, as you sit quietly and listen, you come to sense that no one looks uncomfortable or as if groping for ideas or words. And no one looks as thought they would disapprove of anything the others say; they seem to truly accept all that is being said. It seems that the most important element is quite simply that the words come from the heart, and this way of speaking seems to relax the mood in the room, and you begin to feel a little less nervous, a little more alert. And curious.

Meanwhile, the speaking continues, slowly making its way around the circle, person by person, vision by vision. There are about five or six people before it’s your turn to speak.

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Your mission: A story well told

This is a story with a happy ending. It’s about communicating the missions of our projects. It’s also a story about fish.

First, before we get started, we should clear up the difference between mission and vision:

Classically, a mission statement tells you the fundamental purpose of the organization; it is about now.

A vision statement tells you what the project wants to be, or how it wants the world to be if the mission is achieved; it concentrates on the future.

It is commonly accepted though to see a mix of the terms values, mission, vision, philosophy or credo to refer to an organization’s statement of purpose.

And second, we should let history add a bit of context to our story. The origin of the word “mission” is from the mid 16th century and referred to the sending of the Holy Spirit into the world, derived from the Latin word “mittre”, meaning “send”. Today, five centuries later, we can pencil the word’s definition as: a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling.

That sets things up rather nicely, doesn’t it.

The beginning

In the beginning there was a project.

But before the project became a reality, it was first an idea. An idea with a notion to create, change, effect or produce something. When this idea matures into a project with a clear purpose, then it needs a plan to achieve its particular aim, or, in other words, to achieve its ‘mission’.

In the formulation of any plan, the statement of mission should be the second item scribed, be it on parchment or an iPad, right after the name of the project, organization or business. It should clearly and boldly state what a project does and what it intends to achieve ­­— its mission or reason for existing.

All people that come into contact with any project should know what its mission is.

The goal is to

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One simple question

There is a simple question that needs to be asked. So, here it is:

What percentage of projects and enterprises in today’s environment clearly articulate their mission, vision and values to their public?

(Click on your selection)

Low

Medium

High

You might have been surprised by the answer. Or by the question.

Or maybe you think the question should be this:

Do the mission, vision and values of a project or business have a place in the digital era, in multi-platform environments and in our professional and social networks?

That’s another good one. And here’s the answer:

Yes. Because these elements speak of the reason for being, the core of your project, and what you want the world to see, know and feel connected to. It’s your story.

In the next post, I’ll talk about and clearly define these key terms, I’ll make them usable ideas, dust them off, make them shine. They’re the very essence of good strategy.

The trumpet player and the president

A brief tale about focus groups.

There were once two men with talent; one was a gifted musician and the other an elected president of a beautiful country. The musician played his trumpet every evening for change from passersby in a long underground passageway that connected two lines of the city’s metro. The other delivered very important speeches that sought to explain the country’s difficult economic situation to his constituents. The musician played his music quite well, but he played his instrument so loud that people hurried past, and some even slightly turned away, shielding themselves from the blare of the trumpet which produced a painful sensation as they neared. Not far away from there, the president, who was an intelligent man and competent orator, looked squarely into the television camera and endlessly put forth complex data and technical vocabulary while the citizens listened in their homes with confusion and impatience.

Neither of these talented men was engaging their public. Both had missed their mark. They desperately needed feedback from their targeted listeners. A small focus group would have easily told the trumpet player that he was playing too loud and the president that his discourse did not help them to understand their country’s very real problems.

For the musician, this meant that no people stopped to put money in his hat. For the president it meant that thousands of people grew frustrated and distrustful.

Think for a moment about your talent and your project. Do you know how your public engages, how they feel, and if your art is making the impact you desire? If not, find out. Run a focus group.

It could mean the difference between your success and going home with an empty hat.

A strategic mantra

If you had to choose one strategic mantra for your business, project or initiative, the chanting of “clarity, clarity, clarity” might be your best choice. It is surprising, however, how often this very simple idea is never chanted, or even considered, as we busily go about our daily routine with our team, our project development, our production and our communication.

Clarity begins with the core vision of our project, a vision that everyone involved needs to understand and share in order to fully participate and use their skills to their maximum potential. Clarity is also key for the smooth choreography of a team of people working together. People must understand their role, what is expected of them, timelines, goals, as well as the roles of the other members of the team.

This is one of the most common oversights experienced in countless projects in all parts of the world. Why? Because achieving clarity is a highly refined skill and is not always easy. As a matter of fact, it can take quite a bit of effort – beginning with the conscious desire of the project’s leader. However, when the hard work is done, and the difficult moments have passed, the strongest and most effective enterprises are created; attitudes change, output improves and people reach commonly shared goals together. It works. And things get easier from there.

The artist Gary Larson gets it. So pick up a metaphorical paintbrush and start clarifying.