Two lenses for better strategy.

It’s incredibly tempting, based on our set ways, to look at diagnosis and subsequently, bringing about change, as a linear process.

See boring, mostly illegible slide above.

Unfortunately – because, oy, how nice and easy life would be if there was – there is no such thing as LINEAR change. In our simplifications, we do not do credit to the complexity of systems. As a result, instead of reducing complexity, we increase it. We tend to come up with one-dimensional solutions, that as a result, tend to be wrong.

It’s my belief that organisations (I look at those as systems, to be clearcan solve 80% of their problems, with or without outside help. This leaves 20% unaddressed. It’s often there that the structural causes for the other 80% can be found. Usually below the waterline, that other 20% goes by as non-discussable or, as Richard Farson has once beautifully put it:

“Nothing is as invisible as the blindingly obvious.”

In not addressing what’s below the waterline, we short-change ourselves. People are born as natural systems thinkers. This is why children ask “why?” all the time. And why they are capable of learning more in the first ten years of their lives than most people will learn in a lifetime. Sadly, we’re mostly taught to stop questioning things and comply in school. Which means we need to re-learn systems thinking later on.

Lens # 1: Theory U

Theory U.png

People often think you can bring about change by “taking things from A to B”. Stretch the line of the arrow above to a neat straight one in your mind, chunk it in neat little bits, add some milestones and deliverables and BOOM!, we’ll get there.

Most of the time, unfortunately, we don’t. If you remember a time where you went though a successful transformation process, you will inevitably also have gone through a trough of some sort. Only once you had been there, things started to fall in place and come together. And it was a messy process.

If you look at the diagram: a lot of change processes succeed at accessing people’s open mind. So they get it. Less change processes succeed at accessing people’s open heart. This provides them with insight and might even move them, but it will not make them move. Only very few approaches to change succeed at mobilising people’s open will, which is where they become self-motivated individually and collectively to change and just get going.


At the bottom of the U is where you’ll see the cracks. It’s not always a pretty sight and this is also where it is sorely tempting to start fixing. Not yet please. Slow down. I’d like to introduce a different notion of design as formulated by Andrew Pickering:

A distinctly cybernetic notion of design, very different from that more familiar in modern science and engineering. If our usual notion of design entails the formulation of a plan which is then imposed upon matter, the cybernetic approach entailed instead a continuing interaction with materials, human and non-human, to explore what might be achieved – what one might call an evolutionary approach to design, that necessarily entailed a degree of respect for the other.

This is the stance you are looking for. And need to stick to. It’s somewhere at the bottom, between letting go and letting come, that you find the levers to shift the game. That’s why I introduced this notion of design versus the drive to fix and impose a plan. In keeping with this, you need to tinker with it and prototype the ideas. Test them, validate them. That includes inviting some of the staunchest company critics for a test drive.


If it feels like you are stuck at the bottom of a halfpipe sometimes, you are probably precisely where you need to be

Lens # 2: Scenarios

Somewhere in this process, you will see where things need to go. You can then take the step of developing a few scenarios as to how this could unfold for you.


/səˈne(ə)rēˌō/ Noun

1.     A written outline of a movie, novel, or stage work

giving details of the plot and individual scenes.

2.     A postulated sequence or development of events.

Try to craft scenarios from what you found in your exploration. If done well, they foster understanding, create enormous focus and become an invaluable asset in running your business better. If you do it well, it will end up being narrative strategy – strategy that simply unfolds. Purpose, context, psychology and goals align naturally.

Key ingredients

Good names 

We will either end up with

  • Nuclear War
  • Conventional War with Many Casualties”
  • or World Peace.

Everybody gets that in one. You can see why it’s helpful to make three, along the lines of worst, moderate and best.

 Good storyline & presentation.

A clear, descriptive narrative of what will likely happen and what the impact will be on the organisation for each scenario if it unfolds. To help you think about that, a good start and end point is to think of a magazine cover or a front page of the Financial Times. You can then discuss the scenarios with others on the basis of three different cover or front pages. When SYPartners were working with Howard Schultz upon his return to Starbucks as CEO, they were led around a room with large black and white images and assignments on iPods. The final one was a huge image of the Beatles. The $64,000 question was: “What does it take to reinvent an icon?”

Good metrics

What simple metrics do you apply to filter data to know where you are?

  • Numbers
  • Behaviour
  • Events
  • Milestones

Often, if you do some good thinking, there is one leading indicator that appeals to everybody that let’s you know how you are really doing.

How much time have you set aside to slow down to go faster with your team?

What scenarios do you see?

What’s your $64,000 question to unlock your best thinking about that?

What’s your leading indicator?

When you write more, you realise some of your older writing needs to be revis(it)ed. I reworked and sharpened one of the chapters from my book Crack the Code here.


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