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The Mindset(s) Of Strategy

May 23, 2017

Strategy is hard. 

It's hard because of risk, chance and uncertainty. It's hard because outcomes are hard. But it's especially hard because it requires three different mindsets. 

 

The first rule of strategy, as Dixit and Nalebuff say, is "Look forward and reason backward." 

That rule has two things in it:

 

1. Look forward.

2. Reason backward. 

 

It's hard to do both. Because they require two different mindsets. 

 

Looking forward is an act of imagination. It's creating a vision. It's extrapolation beyond known data. It's going beyond the here and now. It's going to some imagined future. 

 

It looks like this: 

Maybe you're good at imagining the future. Maybe you aren't. If you find it hard to imagine or create visions, usually you find the second part easier. 

 

The second part is reasoning backward. 

 

Once you have the vision, you leave it. You leave the future and work backward. Using reason. Using logic. You build a path backward from the future to today. 

 

It looks like this: 

 It's a different mindset from the first mindset. It's replacing imagination with reason. 

 

It's hard for most people to do both. It's hard to both imagine and reason. And for people who can do both, it's hard to make the mindset shift from one to the other. 

 

But then, it gets worse.

 

It gets worse because after you've imagined the future and reasoned backward, there's another shift of mindset.

 

You shift to the mindset of action. Imagination and reason take a backseat. You go tactical. You do what needs to be done.

 

Going tactical is a different mindset from the first two. It means a focus on little things. A focus on doing. A focus on turning decisions into actions into results. A focus on objectives. A focus on getting things done. It's action. 

 

It looks like this: 

Strategy is imagining a future and reasoning backward so you can go tactical. It's imagination, reasoning, and action.

 

Three different mindsets.

 

Together, the three look like this:

These mindsets are so different, some organizations separate them out. They let some people be visionaries. They let others be data analysts. They let others turn decisions into action. 

 

When that happens, it's easy to elevate one over the others. It's easy to say vision is most important. Or analysis. Or action. But for a successful strategy, one can't happen without the others. 

 

For a strategy to be successful, you must have all three:  

1. Imagination

2. Reason

3. Action

 

It's hard. But there are shortcuts.

 

A Spy's Guide To Strategy will show you what they are.

 

 

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