Chess Grandmasters master the application of concepts and apply them to situations.
I study chess and learn move sequences for Openings, Middle Game, Endings, etc and witness many people get caught up in debates around move sequences. There seem to be endless debates which opening is the best defense for specific offense openings. For example, the debate “is the Sicilian Defense the best defense against Giuoco Piano” seems to never end. As I grow my skills, I’m learning to appreciate chess concepts more and try to unlearn habits built from years of performing the same sequences over and over again. In a sense, I’m maturing my chess skills by being knowledgeable on the various move sequences and more importantly focus on learning chess concepts and adapting them to different scenarios. This isn’t surprising as it is commonly understood that chess grandmasters tend to focus more on concepts such as Control the Center, Combinations, and Accumulate Small Advantages, and apply those concepts to given situations. In fact, the famed Bobby Fischer reminds us that sticking to a regimented approach to chess sequences will often lose to a creative mind who assumes no specific technique, but applies chess concepts to any situation.
Mastery of software programming comes from the application of patterns to scenarios using languages.
My professional career began as a software programmer and I noticed, and sometimes participated in, debates related to why one programming language was better than another. Over time I learned that I could write higher quality code when I focused on mastering patterns (eg Gang of Four Design Patterns) and their application to different scenarios as opposed to focusing on mastering the semantics of a particular language.
Martial Arts Masters master concepts and the application of them to different situations.
I’ve recently begun to study martial arts and guess what, same situation. There are so many martial art systems out there and, you guessed it, tons of debate as to which is superior to another. When I was a kid, I loved watching Kung Fu Theatre on Saturday mornings. I loved to see Praying Mantis style fight Iron Fist, then Tiger’s Claw take on Drunken Master. I always thought that was just for fun and never thought that adults actually behave like that in the real world. As it turns out, they do. In fact, such debates have gone on for centuries and still go on to today; “Karate is superior to Kung Fu” or “Grappling is superior to Boxing”, and so on. Most of martial arts masters rely on mastering concepts and applying them to their martial art system. For example, Grapplers such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu emphasize concepts like Maintain Low Center of Gravity and Spine Control, and apply them in movements to submit their opponent given ground fighting situations.
It seems that masters of a domain tend to master theory and explore how to apply it to different situations. In other words, the skills of a master are focused on concepts and build their ability by learning to apply the concepts to different situations. Interestingly, in the domain of martial arts, there is one that stands out to the rest; Wing Chun. Wing Chun is primarily a concept-based martial art that focuses on concepts such as Control the Centerline, Use Leverage to Divert Power, Body Alignment for Strength, Relax to Develop Power, Sense Your Opponents Motions, Speed vs Power vs Complexity Tradeoff, etc. At its core, Wing Chun is a collection of martial art concepts that can apply to any martial art system and we’re seeing this happen today. Through the popularity of mixed martial arts, most of the martial artists take concepts from various systems and apply them to maximize their strengths in a given situation. Today, most of the popular mixed martial art systems have adopted Wing Chun concepts to some degree.
Strategic Planning Concepts.
In the domain of strategic planning, there are many methodologies, and yes, the debates for which is superior go on and on. There’s the balanced scorecard variations (eg 9-step process by the Balanced Scorecard Institute and The Palladium Group’s The Palladium Execution Premium Model), McKinsey’s Strategy Framework, Hoshin Kanri, Blue Ocean, Value Chain Analysis, and many, many more.
Disclaimer: I know, some of you will notice that I’m grouping lots of different methodologies into the same bucket “strategic planning” that you may disagree with. For the purposes of this article, however, it doesn’t matter. The assumption is that these are all related to strategic planning in some form and because the purpose of this article is not to compare these methods but rather extrapolate the concepts they demonstrate, it's okay to consider any method related to strategic planning for this exercise.
So, to the point of this post, I wonder if we could consider mastering strategic planning by avoiding the "such and such method is superior" debate and instead identify important strategic planning concepts and master applying them in different situations; organizational structures, differences in leadership culture, competitive markets, industries, etc. To help get the juices flowing, here is a set of important strategic planning concepts I’ve formed based on my experience:
Strategic Planning Concepts
Rhythm of the Business
Strategic planning is a recurring process to regularly:
All of the above should be the core part of any organization’s Rhythm of the Business agenda and avoid the pitfall of managing strategy separate to how the organization manages itself.
A note about organizational culture. As it’s been stated before “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. For strategic planning processes to work, an organization’s culture must be able to embrace planning concepts like delegation, information sharing, and dependencies. Cultures that are not able to trust, empower and share will likely fail any sort of company-wide planning process. The “Rhythm of the Business” is a brute-force concept to build strategic planning into an organization.
Don’t allow wiggle room that leads to failing to achieve strategic objectives by not assigning clear ownership of objectives to individual leaders.
All staffed efforts relate to initiatives
All staffed efforts are an investment and should be accountable to at least on business objective and measured to achieve specific performance targets.
Balance Efficiency AND Effectiveness
Operational Efficiency and Business Effectiveness. All organizations have a responsibility to run efficiently as possible while simultaneously adding value to the organization’s downstream. Managing an organization’s efficiency supports vertical alignment across the company. Managing the effectiveness supports horizontal alignment across the company.
Strategy and Execution are two sides of the same coin. Strategy states what is to be done, and Execution delivers it. In the context of strategic planning, one cannot exist without the other or it isn’t a strategic planning process.
Up and Down, Right to Left
Always cascade for alignment down from the Board of Directors to the team managing the data center who hosts the server farms and from right to left from the customers (intra-company and extra-company) who receive value from your organizations to the research teams ideating the next great value proposition.
I think it’s time to “master” strategic planning by refining a set of strategic planning concepts like those above and then spend our time exploring how to apply them to organizations given their specific dynamic situations.
By the way, 5 points if you can name the people in the images used in this article. :)