Strategy is What You Do

I spent a very enjoyable day today working with a group of people that basically act as innovation consultants. They each work with firms in order to help them develop and embed innovation processes.

In the course of the day, several of them said something that went something like “we’re not sure how their innovation plan fits in with their strategy.” One of them also said this about one of the firms that he works with: “Their strategy seems to be pretty good, even though it isn’t written down.”

This raises an important point – your strategy is not what you say, your strategy is what you do.

The split between strategic planning and strategic action is extremely dangerous. Too often, firms will write out a strategy and then think that their problems are solved. This never works.

Think of it this way – if your strategy isn’t written down, do you still have a strategy? Of course. Strategy is the set of choices you make about what business your in, and how you’ll win.

If your firm is operating, you are in some business, whether you’ve written it down or not. In the same way, one way or another you have some set of qualities that entice people to pay for whatever you’re providing. These constitute your strategy. It doesn’t matter if it is formally written out or not.

So if one of the parts of your strategy is to make innovation a priority, it doesn’t matter how many you times you write that in your strategic plan, or in your mission statement, or in your values. The thing that matters is what you do on a day-to-day basis.

The advantage to writing out a strategy is that it can make it easier to decide what to do when it’s Tuesday morning at 10:30 am and you sit down at your desk with some free time. If you’ve already thought out your strategy, the choices that you’ve made in doing that can guide you in your current choice of how to best spend your free time. But the strategy isn’t in the document, it’s in the choice you make at 10:30 am.

In other words, your strategy is not what you say, your strategy is what you do.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

10 thoughts on “Strategy is What You Do

  1. Once more you have nailed it, Tim!

    Again, execution is the crucial part of the process. “Doing” is the manifestation of the ideas we have. That doesn’t mean at all, ideas and concepts are not important. But they just take effect by implementing them through actions by “doing”.

    Recently, I came across a good post from Bob Sutton on a similar topic: “Amateurs Strategize, Professionals Execute”

    Sutton says: ”
    It could be that strategy is very important to the success of firms, but it does not explain differences among firms in an industry because following the right strategy is required to stay alive and that executing strategy explains the differences in performance among living firms.”

    I think he is dead on!


  2. Thanks for the comment and the link Ralph. I agree with you about Sutton – he is one of the best writers around these days on management & strategy issues.

  3. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Whoever came up with the idea to sever strategy from implementation needs a good ass-kicking!”

    – Greg

Comments are closed.