Strategic Planning is a “Difficult Conversation”

frustrationThe Board’s strategy team was struggling. They had met several times, and were lacking consensus on almost everything: what was the core strategic challenge, who had the best ideas, were there hidden agendas, was the time in the meeting worth their while, can they trust their colleagues?

I decided to address this issue head on. Here is what I told the group as we kicked off the session:

“Strategy work invariably involves ambiguity, as we discussed at the kickoff meeting. Ambiguity takes people out of their comfort zone and few people really like that discomfort. Ambiguity and frustration go hand in hand. I’m asking you to focus on the tasks of strategic thinking, and not the discomfort.

The ambiguity presently facing us involves several things. It involves defining and agreeing on the core challenge for the organization. It involves agreeing on whether or not our preferred future is feasible. It involves selecting the actions – the what – that will address the core challenge and move us toward the vision. We have to figure out all of those things in order to say “We have a strategy to recommend.” The question we are struggling with is this: What is going to happen?

Continuing, I told them,

Underneath our conversation about events – answering the what-is-going-to-happen question – are two other conversations. They are, “What am I feeling?” and “Who am I?”

Some of you might be feeling frustrated and maybe even angry. Your feelings are legitimate. Your feelings are influenced by the deeper “Who am I?” conversation going on inside each of us. Each person in this room comes to this strategy-development workshop with their own life experience and expectations.

My words of advice turned out to be helpful in building patience.  The board members were a little more open about acknowledging the difficulties that they faced. Too, my remarks made it safer to express their feelings. One Board member told me afterwards, “Yes, I am feeling frustrated, because I am a Marine and as a Marine we like to be physically advancing towards our targets.”

Amygdala Hijack: Extreme Emotion Can Block Good Thinking

Our brains have a near constant tension underway between the higher-order conceptualization that takes place in the pre-frontal cortex, and the more primitive Amygdala and basal ganglia (which are the sources of anxiety and habits).  First degree murder is a crime where the murder is committed by premeditation; it is the pre-frontal cortex in action. Second degree murder is one where the passions have taken over. I’ve heard this called “Amygdala hijack.”  I’m sure you recognize this statement as common,

He was too angry to think straight!

Strategic thinking is done best when people are calm and reflective. Detachment, the ability to step back for patterns and perspective, is essential.

Frustration is common in group strategy work, especially for those who have not had much prior exposure. If not managed well, frustration quickly expresses itself as anger. Anger takes over, and people become too angry to think straight. Furthermore, the anger is ameliorated by assignment of blame to others.  The unrecognized story goes something like this: there must be a reason that I am feeling this way, and someone who is causing it. When I assign blame I have resolved the ambiguity so I feel a bit more comfortable.

Strategy as a Difficult Conversation

These next paragraphs will give you some of the theory that further explains my comments to the strategy team.

Strategy meetings can be difficult, in large part because strategy development is an inherently ambiguous undertaking.  People, generally speaking, don’t like ambiguity and often avoid it. Hence, people avoid the difficult thinking work of strategy and gravitate towards concrete concepts and tasks.

The challenge for the strategic thinker can be overcome by recognizing that “difficult meetings” usually mean managing “difficult conversations.” A difficult conversation is one where the stakes are high, people need to work together, the potential for mistakes in communication is high, and the consequences of not dealing with those mistakes can start an unproductive blame game.

Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone and coauthors presents a model for dealing with those disagreements that can destroy a collaboration. The book explains that any difficult conversation is actually composed of three layered sub conversations:

  • The conversation about “What happened?” When we look back on an incident, we often can’t agree on the facts of what happened. For our purposes of discussing strategy, I restate Stone’s first question for as this, “What is going to happen?” The practical question is one that will be contentious: can we agree on what should or will happen?
  • The conversation about, “What am I feeling?” People may not actually talk about the question, but feelings nevertheless will influence the conversation.
  • The conversation about, “Who am I?”

Another Example: How One Powerful Emotion Destroyed a Strategic Initiative?

I remember vividly a situation in a Division-level strategy session designed to meet the CEO’s challenge to double the size of its revenues. I was working with a small core group of people that could only meet for an hour or two every week. After several meetings, the group had decided that the brand identity was the Division’s core competency, making it the best possible lever for creating growth.

Donna was a member of that group. She was a 25-year veteran of the organization who understood all of the numbers that drove the business model. I had met her a year earlier and found her to be a very pleasant and capable person.

Due to the ongoing pressures of running the business in its busy season, we had to take a three-week hiatus from strategy work. When we returned to resume discussions, we tried to regain momentum on the question of “what do we do next?” I reminded them that they had determined that their core competency and we were now at the point of figuring out how to best apply that core competency to gain competitive advantage.

Donna did something that surprised everyone. She outbursted in anger: “YOU MEAN WE FORGOT!” What was she angry about? To forget is human; the group collectively forgot something that was important. Her anger was directed in a general kind of way at herself, her colleagues, the strategic planning process, and at me.

Here is an explanation: Donna’s anger was a boiling over of frustration, because the management team had not yet decided the answer to the question, “what is going to happen?”

Continuing with the story, she quickly regained her composure and we carried on with the meeting. However, the meeting that day was the last time the Division made a serious attempt to devise a growth strategy. The group found reasons stayed operationally focused and never changed its mediocre business model. The CEO accepted the excuse that “we are busy” and “we’re trying.”

I followed up with the Divisions’ President several times as it became clear that “operational business” was going to prevail over “strategic impact” (my words, not his). During one conversation, he mentioned that “people got angry when the work on strategy.” Years later, I recognize that he was subtly blaming the advisor (me) for Donna’s outburst and the discomfort that everyone felt. Now, perhaps I should have sent out an email beforehand reminding people of the past accomplishments. That error of omission was a mistake, and mistakes are inevitable in difficult conversations. As I mentioned earlier, people are human.

The entire nature of difficult conversations is that they involve people and their subjective stories and views:

Stakes are high; information is incomplete; mistakes will be made; emotions trump reasoning; we don’t really know the inner person; we have varying levels of emotional intelligence; it’s comforting to blame others, people avoid ambiguity; the status quo is powerful

In order to think and act strategically, we have to recognize an ongoing and never-ending challenge:  We can’t deny our emotions nor our identities. We can’t deny the impact of the emotions nor disregard the identities of other strategic actors. We somehow have to find a way to “vent” the emotion and carry on with strategic thinking in a calm way (that is, let the prefrontal cortex do its work).

This story continues a lesson on the destructive effects of ambiguity. It needs to be recognized. To deny its presence is to return to the status quo.

A final lesson in this story has to do with memory.  The group had made a breakthrough: it had determined a strategic insight around the use of its brand as a leverageable core competency. That breakthrough was documented (but people didn’t review the document or pause to refresh their memory).

Who Am I?

Recapping this article: strategy involves difficult conversations, and difficult conversations are actually composed of three subconversations. The first subconversation is about events (what will happen?) but it can get disrupted by the second one (what am if feeling?) when frustration is unmanaged and spills into anger or ambiguity avoidance.

The third subconversation question (i.e., Who am I?) is the most sensitive and nuanced of the three.  Each individual has a life story that defines their sense of self. Their story may be helpful to strategic thinking, or it may get in the way. If the story is a mismatch, we increase the impact of difficult conversations becoming unproductive conversations.

To illustrate, I’ll return to the Marine mentioned at the opening of the article. Marines proudly declare, “One you are a Marine, you are always a Marine.” This Marine had not been on active duty for several years. Regardless the “I am a Marine” story was central to his self view. Every time I met him, he mentioned he was a Marine. Every email from him mentioned he was a Marine. He repeatedly explained that Marines are people who take action (with the implication that conversation and thinking was not action). In his prior experience, someone else would tell him what was important, and he would respond with urgency. Marines are people who have the purpose of the Corps deeply engrained into them.

Here is the mismatch: In this strategic situation, we were trying to figure out what was important to the civilian organization he was now serving. This involved identifying the strategic questions to act upon. We wanted this Marine to think like a General, not a Sargent. The strategic planning situation involved the purpose of the organization, a discussion that Marines don’t need to conduct. His remembrance of military strategy didn’t match his experience with civilian strategy, so he judged the effort appeared as irrelevant and wasteful. To his credit, he resigned from the strategy work because of his discomfort with the situation.

Competency in Managing Frustration

Frustration resembles the emotions of fear and anxiety.  One cause of frustration is that the individual “feels like things are out of control.” Organizational process are bounded and controlled, and provide a sense of safety and predictability for the individual.  Both Donna and the Marine had spent most of their career in process-oriented organizations. They were both outside of their comfort zones and their amygdala hijacked their ability to make worthwhile contributions to strategy discussions.

So, strategic thinking competency is not just a competency of processing information in a rational way. It is also a competency of managing one’s emotions. It is a competency that involves managing frustration: perhaps it is the strong mindedness to persevere and complete the tasks of strategy.

I’ll close with a story about “Hell Week,” the final excruciating training that US Navy SEALs must pass to graduate from SEAL school. I recall reading an instructor explaining,

“Everyone knows that Hell Week will be the most brutal physical test they will ever experience. The individuals who will graduate are those who keep their focus on the task immediately in front of them. Those who quit are those who allow the discomfort to dominate their attention.

How do you handle difficult conversations that involve strategy development? Do you agree that one aspect of strategic thinking is to recognize and manage emotions?

Two Case Studies in Strategic Thinking: Rick Pitino and Billy Beane

Pitino-BeaneThis article describes two well-known executives who changed strategic contexts: one used patterns and analogies well and was successful; the other didn’t. First we will examine the experience of Rick Pitino – an outstanding college basketball coach – who struggled with coaching in the NBA. Then we will examine how Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s used creative desperation and a healthy skepticism to rethink his managerial approach with the Moneyball-era Oakland A’s baseball team.

Rick Pitino: Patterns for College Strategy Do Not Translate to the NBA

As a college coach, Pitino had a won-loss record of 371-137, as of 1997, and won a national championship with the University of Kentucky. Pitino agreed to move to the professional ranks to become the GM and coach of the Boston Celtics. This move created a great deal of excitement for the Boston fans. Unfortunately all involved, the excitement and optimism turned to anger when the team failed to perform to expectations. With a record of 102-146, Pitino left to return to the college ranks midway through his third season, hugely unpopular.

What went wrong?  How could this great strategist fail?  In an article titled, “Lessons Learned (and Forgotten) from Celtics’ Failed Rick Pitino Experiment,” Grant Hughes writes,

“Pitino’s coaching style, just like the persona he employed in interviews, was very much “Rick-centric.” On the court, that meant he had to win on his own terms. The full-court presses and mass substitutions that led to so much success in college were going to define his Celtics teams, consequences be damned. Even when it became clear that the desired results of Pitino’s preferred style—forced turnovers, a fast pace, general chaos—weren’t leading to wins, the coach stuck stubbornly to his guns.

Hughes points out this key to success in the NBA: Players dictate strategy—not the other way around.  Antione Winfield, who played for Pitino at Kentucky and later at Boston reinforces the idea of patterning actions around players, observed in a different interview:

“What I noticed playing for Coach (Pitino) at that time, I think you have to be patient. I think if you look at Rick Pitino and what he did in that era, he traded probably thirty guys. “He’d sign guys and trade them right away. His patience level was so low. You have to be patient and you have to build something. You have to start with one or two guys and kind of build around them, and that’s a lot of things college coaches don’t want to do because they’re so used to winning at the collegiate level, at such a high level. When they’re winning 85, 86, 87 percent of their games, and then you get to the NBA level and it’s not the same.”

From a strategic thinking perspective, it seems like the problems are rooted in the patterns and context: basketball is different at the college level and at the professional level. The learning is to develop a sensitivity for patterns and context. Pitino perhaps suffered from what Gary Klein calls “passive stance” or what others call frame blindness.

The Coach’s Learning

Gary Washburn, writer for the Boston Globe interviewed Pitino. Looking back on the experience, Pitino says,

“The [fact of the] matter is I didn’t do a good enough job as an executive. It also taught me about wearing a lot of hats, focusing on what you can do. It was a class organization. They treated me great. I [had] nothing but great things to say about it when Brad [Stevens] got the job. It’s just that it didn’t work out for me, but it did work out for me because without the Celtics, I wouldn’t have learned all about failure and all about humility.”

Gary Washburn, offers this observation in the same article:

It taught Pitino he is better at convincing parents in a rural Kentucky home to allow their child to start his next phase of life at Louisville than crossing his fingers for good luck in the NBA draft lottery.

Billy Beane: Reinvents Himself, His Organization, and His Industry

Billy Beane, General Manager of professional baseball’s Oakland A’s, is now well known from the book and movie, Moneyball.  As a player, Beane played in the majors for several years with different teams, finally spending more time in the minor leagues than he cared for.  He chose to end his playing career in 1990 to take a job as an advance scout. In 1997, he was promoted to General Manager, taking over from Sandy Alderson. Using sabermetrics techniques, the team made baseball’s playoffs despite one of the lowest payrolls in the game. Beane completely reversed traditional wisdom about how to build a team, coming to the conclusion that scouts had no idea of what they were talking about, and looking for new statistically-based measures of productivity.

Beane was successful in part because he changed his own personal patterns. Says Sandy Alderson, who was the A’s General Manager and brought Beane into the organization, says in the Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,

“What Billy figured out at some point was that he wanted to be more like me than like Jose Canseco.”  Addressing Beane’s change of mindset and patterns, Alderson said, “Billy shed every one of his player-type prejudices and adapted. Whereas most of the people like him would have said, ‘that’s not the way we did it when I played.

It’s instructive to note Beane’s own perspective,

“If baseball’s all you can do and you know that’s all you can do, it breed in you a certain creative desperation.”

As a concluding thought, it’s rather interesting that both men suffered a humiliation.  Beane’s was that of a player struggling in the major leagues, and being relegated to the rougher life of an aging minor-league player. Beane’s marriage also broke up at the same time he concluded his playing career. Pitino’s quote on learning humility from his Boston experience shows growth, and perhaps has helped him be more strategic as a person and a coach in his return to college ranks.

As a strategic thinker, you must have a sensitivity to patterns and context.  Too, perhaps much of journey to become more competent in thinking strategically might be in the way that you learn – and bounce back – from failures. Do you agree?

Strategic Thinking & The Game of Chess: Myth and Reality

This animated GIF was created on 29th July 200...

This animated GIF was created on 29th July 2007 by Sylvain Gadenne. In the context of the Budapest Gambit (an opening in the game of chess), it presents the strategy of pressure against the e3-pawn. It is intended to be used in the Wikipedia article about the Budapest Gambit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Make sure your resume says that you play chess. It shows you are a strategic thinker,” advised the older businessman to the young man networking into an industry trade group. The young man knew that his next job would largely define his career prospects, and he wanted to get into a position where he could provide impact.

For good reason, chess has become an iconic representation of strategy. Chess is a game that requires structured thinking and deliberation. However, chess is not a perfect analogy for organizational strategy.

The Myth: Chess Strategy is a Linear, Pre-Calculated Plan

A Vice President of OnStar, the General Motors subsidiary, was being interviewed in an article on the topic of innovation for a professional association magazine. Guided by the “overarching business strategy of creating great customer experiences,” he likened “his company’s innovation strategy to the way chess masters approach their game.” He said:

“They decide before they begin what their checkmate will be and work back from that point, unraveling all the moves necessary to get to that outcome. By beginning with a specific goal, they don’t get mired down in the myriad possibilities in front of them.”

Research shows that chess masters do not work with a goal and establish a linear (step-by-step) strategic plan.  Here is supporting research cited in the chess entry on Wikipedia:

In his doctoral thesis, Adrian de Groot showed that chess masters can rapidly perceive the key features of a position.  According to de Groot, this perception, made possible by years of practice and study, is more important than the sheer ability to anticipate moves. De Groot showed that chess masters can memorize positions shown for a few seconds almost perfectly. The ability to memorize does not alone account for chess-playing skill, since masters and novices, when faced with random arrangements of chess pieces, had equivalent recall (about half a dozen positions in each case). Rather, it is the ability to recognize patterns, which are then memorized, which distinguished the skilled players from the novices. When the positions of the pieces were taken from an actual game, the masters had almost total positional recall.

The de Groot research illustrates well the essence of strategic thinking. In this case, chess acumen – acumen being considered the accumulation of knowledge of useful patterns and key features of the situation – is applied with thinking that is imaginative, systematic, and opportunistic. Chess masters have the ability to perceive, classify, and use patterns.

The context of chess is different from the context of business, games, or war because the patterns of activity are different. Strategic thinkers develop acumen – the knowledge of patterns relevant to their competitive context, and blend it with a cognitive framework. Because the mind structures knowledge differently, the definition of strategic thinking as an individual competency is reinforced.

Reality: Chess Strategy is Developed – But there is a Role for Preparation

Here are some more research insights useful for understanding chess’s application and limitations to strategic thinking.

Eric Leifer, an American sociologist, asked chess grand masters how many maneuvers they pre-calculate.  The answer was none to one maneuver. Rather than working backwards from the end point of winning the game; instead, they develop it a move at a time. One obvious reason: chess is a competitive game, and opponent’s moves cannot be predicted.

Chess grand masters build up their game as do their opponents. Leifer asked for the reason for this strategy and got the answer that it is the only way to correct mistakes from the beginning of the game. As each player builds up their game, the winner eventually – in the endgame – finds a maneuver that breaks any resistance and puts the opponent out of action. Leifer found that skilled players seek to preserve flexibility.

This might lead you to believe that chess talent is inborn, and there is no need for planning. But, chess masters do prepare for their matches. What do they do? In planning for a chess match, chess masters spend little time visualizing the win and the steps to get there. Instead, their preparations focus on game development: the patterns of moves in their own games and that of their opponent. Key to this is looking for things that might be habitual, especially regarding the willingness to recognize mistakes, repeat mistakes, and correct mistakes.

Reality: Chess Is Strategic Venturing with Willingness to Say, “How Might I Be Wrong?”

In research described in Nature magazine in 2004, Michelle Cowley and Ruth Byrne found that chess players indeed “mentally map out the future consequences of each possible move.”

Cowley and Byrne found that good chess players do something that is qualitatively different; they invest more time thinking in an imaginatively and conceptual way about their opponent’s response.  Specifically, they imagined how the opponent could or would react and exploit whatever weakness is present in their position.  Good chess players falsify their own strategies by imagining the competitor’s response.

This expert approach has leadership implications: Experts are constantly testing their approach to find its vulnerabilities, and make their best choices that least-weaken their strategy.

Novices, on the other hand, tend to be blinded by their own optimism. They start telling themselves a story that they will be successful. In the case of novices, hope is a strategy.

Here is a great question that I heard asked by my friend Paul O’Connor when we were interviewing managers at a scientific instruments company:  What could your competitor do to you that would totally destroy your business?  In this particular instance, we learned that the company’s business thrust into China was very vulnerable, and needed to be made more robust.

More than Deductive Thinking

In my experience, I have seen many people flounder in strategic situations. Much of this can be explained by their preference for (and habits of) deductive thinking.  Deductive thinking is a style of thinking where the thinker takes broad principles, rules, conclusions, and truths and “backs into” the facts and arguments that support the outcome.

The VP quoted early in this article appears to be leaning on deductive thinking (“They decide before they begin what their checkmate will be and work back from that point). Perhaps he simply selected a poor analogy for making his point (planning a road trip involves knowing your goals and deducing the best ways to achieve it). Strategy involves recognizing competition and counter moves; moves which can only be guessed at.

Thus, we can see a distinction between long-range planning (the road trip) and strategy (winning at chess).  Long-range planning is relatively more deductive; however, it has a limitation because the planner needs useful, valid knowledge as a planning input. Who can predict what an equally talented and motivated competitor is going to do?

Strategy is often frustrating to people who habitually rely on deduction as a style of thinking.  As Richard Rumelt points out, treating strategy like a problem in deduction assume that anything worth knowing is already known. To generate a strategy, one must put aside the comfort and security of pure deduction and launch into the murkier waters of induction, analogy, judgment, and insight.

What are the other differences of chess with business strategy? Are there any transferable learnings?

Strong-Minded Thinkers find the “One Thing:” How Curly’s Advice Applies to Thinking Strategically

The 1991 movie Cityslickers provides a great lesson for strategists on the vital topic of focus and provides an excellent introduction to strong-mindedness.

Actor Billy Crystal plays the role of Mitch Robbins, a 39-year old man with a mid-life crisis. Mitch and his two friends take a trip to a Western US dude ranch, where they will participate in a cattle drive. Jack Palance plays the role of Curly, the tough cowboy who will supervise the cattle drive.

Mitch and Curly do not like each other at first. However, as they spend time together, Mitch discovers that Curly is wise to life. In this important scene, the two are riding through canyons, talking:

 Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [points index finger skyward] This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.

Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”

Curly[smiles and points his finger at Mitch] That’s what you have to find out.

There you have it! The secret to life is to find the one thing that you need to stick to. It’s a line of dialogue that provides profound advice for those who want to become strong minded and improve their strategic thinking skills.

Before exploring examining what finding the one thing means in the sense of thinking strategically, let’s explain how Mitch discovered his “one thing:”

Curly and Mitch must deliver a pregnant cow’s calf. Mitch names the calf Norman and informally adopts it. The final test of the drive involves crossing a dangerous river during a violent storm. The men successfully drive most of the herd across the river, except for Norman, who is caught up in the river’s rapid current. Mitch impulsively chases after him, successfully lassoing the calf, but in turn gets caught in the rapids, nearly drowning. All are saved. Then, Mitch reveals that during his dangerous struggle to save Norman, he realized his “one thing” is his family.

The sweet and sentimental part of the story is that Mitch’s one thing was his family, and he returned from his trip with a renewed sense of values. This is not uncommon in Hollywood movies, Mary Poppins being another example of a husband/father gaining perspective of the importance of family.

Insights and Strong Mindedness

Mitch’s realization of his one thing came by way of insight, and it came to him as he faced extreme danger. As I have explained in earlier articles, insights are sudden realizations of the true nature of something. The purpose of strategic thinking is to foster insights.

Now, here is the connection to strong mindedness.  If a person can find that insight of the one thing AND act upon it determinedly, we can say that they are strong minded.  People who lack this strong mindedness either are missing the insight that reveals their personal values and/or the determination to put the values into action. Both ingredients need to be present. I’m not saying it is easy, but it doesn’t need to be a grandly-sophisticated endeavor.

Consider this a definition of strong-mindedness:

The ability to stay true to important principles.

Strong Mindedness as a Pre-Requisite for Strategic Thinking

It seems to me that strong mindedness is something of a pre-requisite for strategic thinking, and the personal values and determination are the result of ambition. Strategic thinkers must become comfortable with ambiguity and conceptualizing, something that often does not come easy.

In an earlier article, I identified Christopher Columbus as a strategic thinker. He had little formal schooling, and his ambition and insights were at the core of his success.  I could point to other successful historical people – Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford – as individuals who we could characterize were foremost strong minded and ambitious. I believe that these individual had to think strategically simply as an outlet for their ambitions.

Strategy and the Focus on Success

Curly’s advice to find the one thing is simply as way of emphasizing the importance of focus.

In the book Competitive Strategy, Michael Porter explains that focus has two meanings. One meaning is the organization’s power – its advantages – is focused on the right target. Again, Curley’s wisdom is simple: find the one thing. Here is where many organizations get into trouble: the say the “one thing” is profit, or cost containment, or growth.  These are all lagging indicators of performance: they are not the causes.

Thus, a strategist needs to appreciate Porter’s other meaning of focus. It has to with the way that economic power is created through coordination of actions (policies) that interact and overlap in ways that provide power over competitors. When we are talking about business strategy, we are really talking about the acumen of understanding how value is created, for which I will provide two examples:

  • Steve Jobs of Apple Computer relentlessly focused the organization on workable and elegant product designs. Apple did this better than its competitors, and its success has been legendary.
  • Sam Walton of Wal-Mart recognized opportunity in serving the rural retail market with everyday low-prices stores. Instead of copying the best practices of larger competitors like K-Mart, he focused his organization on supply chain policies and resources that redefined the concept of the store as a network

Organizational Strong Mindedness

Reiterating earlier points in this series of articles, good strategic thinkers are the source of insights that foster good strategies. To leverage the talents of individuals, organizations need to allow or encourage the sharing of insights and ideas.

In the organizational setting, strong mindedness is the ability to identify a focal point for success, and maintain attention to that focal point. Strategy is about focus and the application of leverage. The question for the strategist is, what is the “one thing” that is most important for my organization’s future success?

Shunryu Suzuki, a popularizer of Zen philosophy in the United States said, “The most important thing it to find out what is the most important thing.” How have you applied focus in your strategic thinking?

A Lesson on Recognizing and Applying Strategic Insights || 3M’s Post It Notes as an Example || Thinking Strategically

recognizing and applying strategic insightsIn the article How Strategists Produce Strategic Insights, I introduced the concept of insights, defining them as a person’s realization of “the true nature of a thing” and/or its relationship to some contextual factor. The following example of the development of 3M’s Post It notes shows that it’s a valid definition. I found six strategic insights.

Insight #1 – A Strategic Thinker Recognizes Interesting Functional and Physical Properties

In 1968, 3M research scientist Dr. Spence Silver first developed the technology was working on an assigned project to improve the acrylate adhesives that 3M uses in many of its tapes. In a classic case of innovative serendipity, Silver found something quite remarkably different from what he was originally looking for. It was an adhesive that formed itself into tiny spheres with a diameter of a paper fiber. The spheres would not dissolve, could not be melted and were very sticky individually. But because they made only intermittent contact, they did not stick very strongly when coated onto tape backings.

Silver knew that he had a highly unusual new adhesive. Now the challenge was: How to find a commercial opportunity? For the next five years, Silver gave seminars and approached individual 3Mers, extolling the potential of this new adhesive and showing samples of it in spray-can form and as a bulletin board.

Insight #2 – A New Product Needs a User Who Will Find Utility

Art Fry a product developer at 3M was frustrated at how his scrap paper bookmarks kept falling out of his church choir hymnal. Fry’s insight was that using “Silver’s adhesive could make for a reliable bookmark.” This was the first practical application of what we now know as Post It notes.

Fry extended the bookmarking insight and realized that there was a broader application. In a BBC interview recounting the insight, Fry slaps his forehead with his palm and exclaims, “What we have here is not just a bookmark. It’s a whole new way to communicate.”

Insight #3 – Find New Ways to Gauge Market Potential for New, Unfamiliar Products  

Market research is difficult with really new products. Four test marketing experiments in different cities in 1978 had proven disappointing. Few people wanted to pay for a product when they could use cost-free scrap paper. Two 3M executives became personally involved in a test in Richmond, Virginia and achieved as useful insight when they experimented with giving away samples to fellow executives.  People liked them and wanted more!

The next trial was a marketing demonstration called the Boise Blitz, because of its intensity. It scored a 90 % reorder rate from free samples, twice what 3M had seen with any other office product.

With the results of the Boise Blitz, 3M knew that a market existed.  It could now commit to the time and cost of engineering and manufacturing the product on a commercial scale, which it accomplished in 1980.

Insight #4 – Exploit Your Core Competencies for Strategic Advantage  

There were many engineering challenges to solve with this brand-new product. One was the paradoxical challenge of getting a weak adhesive to adhere to the paper.  A second challenge was designing machines and manufacturing processes.

All US production was centered in a manufacturing facility near Louisville, Kentucky. There, 3M could apply its core competencies in engineering and manufacturing. 3M’s ability to design a robust, qualified, efficient manufacturing process was the key to the profitability of the product. An engineer who had worked at the Kentucky facility for years told me that they would joke that the Post-It manufacturing process was so lucrative that they were really just printing money.

It takes insight to recognize and match core competencies to engineering and production challenges.

Insight #5 – Extend Your Advantages (Product Family Line)

The “genius” of the technology is in the adhesive and its binding to the paper.  Now, with just a little imagination you can create an entire product line.

Insight #6 – Persistence and Ambition Are Components of Strategy

The story of Post-Its makes for a great narrative and it illustrates the formation of a strategy of opportunistically combining insights.  Yet, the product would have gone nowhere without the of the people involved.

  • It took twelve years from the time that Silver developed the adhesive until the product was launched.  At times, both Silver and Fry were working on the development “off budget.”
  • The company kept at the market research, too, not being discouraged by the poor results. Executives championed the somewhat-risky idea of giving the product away and watching for insight in the results.

As I look at the relationship of strategic thinking to strategy in this and other examples, I come to the conclusion that strategy is assembled out of insights and other things. Those other  things must include the  persistence and ambitions of individuals, which is the quality of strong mindedness. (Watch for a future article.)


I introduced this article by characterizing strategic insights. I wrote that they are a person’s realization of “the true nature of a thing” and/or its relationship to some contextual factor. In the above, I mentioned two individuals – Silver and Fry – who had realized something that seemed relevant and important.  The insights had to do with the contextual factors of materials, users, markets, competencies, and personal values. There are other contextual factors present in the case; however, it seemed a bit of an overkill to discuss them. They include: opportunities, viewpoints of the past/present/future, competitor behavior, macroeconomics, and 3M’s historical narrative from its founding to the time of the case.

Individuals acquire insights through conscious analysis mixed with unconscious (intuitive) cognition. The first example of this is Fry’s conscious effort to apply the adhesive to scrap paper for marking hymnals, combined with the realization that “this is a new way to communicate.” A second example was the market research that mixed formal analysis of demand with a leap-of-faith demonstration: Here are free samples. Use them and let us know when you want more.

Note that activities that involve trial and error often generate insights. Indeed, the very discovery of the adhesive was a result of experimentation and serendipity. Fry developed and tested a hypothesis: “Would this adhesive-coated scrap paper function effectively as a place holder in a hymnal?”  The initial attempts at market research did not signal potential, but a breakthrough insight came with the response to free samples in Richmond and its confirmation with the Boise Blitz.

Does the story of 3Ms Post Its provide you with a better understanding and appreciation of the value of strategic insights?  Would you like to learn more about how to generate, recognize, and organize them?

Action Without Thought is Impulsiveness, Thought Without Action is Procrastination

Action with thought is impulsiveness thought without action is procrastination - Greg Githens

Impulsiveness is “the trait of acting suddenly on impulse without reflection.” Impulses are often described as “whims, sudden involuntary inclinations, unpremeditated, and instinctual urges.” Impulsiveness is good in some situations: an almost child-like quality marked by spontaneity, playfulness, and humor.

On the other hand, impulsiveness may be nothing more than bad habit and selfishness. When impulsiveness is unwanted, the message seems to be this:

think – that is, reflect at a deeper level – before acting.

The opposite of strategic thinking might be mindlessness. The characteristics of mindless thinking are little concern with outcomes, present focused, focus on concrete elements of the task, little imagination, little courage, lost in details, and unconcerned with opportunities.  When scientists want to study people with high degrees of impulsivity, they research inmates in prisons!

Procrastination is a habit of delaying action on something that is important. It is often habitual and arises from analysis paralysis, lazy thinking, fear, or unclear values. Procrastinators should take action, but don’t.

Procrastination is not an intentional delay to minimize the probability of loss.  As psychologist Piers Steel (author of the The Procrastination Equation) points out, procrastination is an irrational delay. Thus, procrastination is not strategic in the sense of avoiding threats or capturing opportunities.

Both Impulsiveness and Procrastination Are Disengaged Thinking

The extraordinary availability of gadgetry – smartphones and the like – seems rule people’s life: stories emerge of people checking for updates in the most inappropriate of places or times: church, job interviews, seminars, driving, and even sex!

Gadgetry and impulsiveness seem to go together. People need to think through the consequences.  Impulsive use of gadgetry is also procrastination, in that it defers action something important that you know you should be doing (developing a spiritual life, showing a basic courtesy to an interviewer, paying attention to new learnings, being a safe driver, being intimate).

People who thinking strategically focus on that which is important to their success. They know that there are more and less important things in life, and they need to make choices about when to be bold and when to be cautious.

To Think Strategically is to Balance Thought and Action

Both impulsiveness and procrastination seem to be in tension with each other. That means that each is a polarity to manage, and the key in any polarity is to manage a balance. How?  First, I try to monitor and manage my attention so that I don’t spend too much time in thought, and to catch myself when I am impulsively plunging into action.  Even better, I trying to both “think and do” simultaneously; with practice, it is not too hard.  Also, I find perspective in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

Second, I keep in mind the idea that mistakes can easily be made (by me and by others). I constantly try to be alert for mistakes, and I have internalized that into a technique that I call The Compact Approach to Strategy.

The third thing I do is related to mistake avoidance: I maintain the vision or working definition of success for myself or the endeavor at hand. Strategic thinking is not the same as creative thinking; creative thinking is concerned with cleverness and strategic thinking is concerned with strategy and success.

Fourth, I recall experiences in agile product development organizations, where they divide work into discrete chunks, and use experimentation and prototyping.  This iterative approach gives us useful information that allows them to rapidly move towards workable ideas.  They are not concerned with the perfection; they are concerned with workable ideas that serve as small wins for betterment.

Are You “Lost in the Weeds?”

I frequently am asked a question by people who know they should be strategic, but are trapped by habit into a comfort zone of technical activities. They ask, “How do I keep myself from being lost in the weeds?”

My reply is that they first should congratulate themselves, because they are recognizing they have a problem that is limiting their effectiveness. This is not unlike addiction recovery programs; the first step is to “admit that you have a problem” and understand how this problem is affecting yourself and others.  (Admittedly, the problem of “being tactical” rather than strategic may not equate to the misery of drug addiction, but it still affects your life in that you may be missing opportunities that could lead to your success.)

“Being tactical rather than strategic” is a form of procrastination.

Regardless, being “lost in the weeds” is both a habit of spending too much time in your comfort  zone (rather than your learning zone). As basic as it may be, the advice is simple: raise up your head (pay attention) and look around (at the strategic context).

Competent strategic thinkers manage their attention, and are aware of the balance between contemplation and action. As you get more comfortable with this balance, you will find that thought and action are more similar than they are different.

How does the idea that “action without thought is impulsiveness and thought without action is procrastination” apply to your goal to be a better strategic thinker?

Alertness for Strategic Opportunities: Hold These Three Attitudes

opportunities are everywhere

All though it is true that strategy involves some sort of premeditation, any experienced general knows that the plan will change with the first shots of battle. Opportunities will open up in unexpected places; so, strategic thinkers want to be alert – watchful, vigilant, and perceptive – for opportunities.

Passive and Active Opportunity Recognition

An opportunity is an event, observation, or option that has the potential to be favorable to someone. The word opportunity in Latin is a contraction of the words “ob” and “portus,” meaning facing in the direction of harbor.  Picture yourself as a Roman seaman, sailing in from the treacherous sea, with the wind blowing you naturally into the harbor. This is passive opportunity recognition: sometimes opportunities happen on their own. Luck is a good thing! Accept the gift and move on.

Entrepreneurs develop a sense of discovering, pursuing, and capitalizing on opportunities that lead to principled success. They are active in their thinking. Again, picture yourself as a Roman seaman entering a port filled with people who want to trade with you.  Your short-term opportunity is to buy and sell. Your long-term opportunity is the recognition of patterns and development of business relationships.

There are three attitudes that can help you be more alert to opportunities.

Attitude 1: Expect to be Surprised

Status quo situations are stable, predictable, and understandable. Although future can be these things, it can also be the opposite. You will be more likely to recognize opportunity if you assume your situation is characterized with these terms: dynamic, ill-structured, ambiguous, and unpredictable.

Evidence is all around us that some industries are undergoing profound and disruptive change. The winners are not those who have the grandest aspirations and goals and most polished processes; they are the ones who can recognize the change early enough and adapt with agility. You will increase your chances for success if you,

Assume the situation is chaotic, and then ask yourself: where are the opportunities?Strategic Thinking Definition

Attitude 2: Have a Mentality of Abundance

Here we choose an assumption that we are blessed an abundance of creativity, talent, connections, ideas, technology, karma, and so forth. Admittedly it is optimistic, but holding an attitude of abundance doesn’t need to be seen as unrealistic.

Here is a personal example: I don’t particularly like to prospect for new clients. However, I find that when I assume (imagine, visualize)  that people will say, “I’m really glad you contacted me,” I find that I am more motivated to make the contacts.  Sometimes the prospecting pays off handsomely!

I see the opposite attitude frequently: the attitude of scarcity. The attitude of scarcity appears when a person assumes that there is finite and limited time, money, people, or resources.  Here is one example of how it manifests itself. In my seminars, I often have an icebreaker game that involves designing a structure out of pipe cleaners where teams have to design and construct it in 10 minutes.  When we debrief afterwards, participants typically note that the time limit restricted the quality of their design. My response to them is, “I would have given you more time if you would have asked for it. I also have more materials available and I would have given you more if you would have asked.”  Their faces show amazement as they realize their scarcity assumption about time and resources has foreclosed on an opportunity.

You will be more alert to opportunity if you hold an attitude of abundance.

Attitude 3: The Criterion is Plausibility, Not Perfection

When opportunities emerge, they are usually messy and incomplete. These imperfections are discouraging if not downright unattractive. Sometimes and it seems little use in building a business case. This observation from venture capitalist Don Rainey shows the value of looking past imperfections,

Your ability to see the imperfection shouldn’t blind you to the larger possibilities. In my venture capital firm, when we hire new, (typically younger people), into the business, we are accustomed to the newcomers hating every deal. They are smart enough to see the imperfection but not yet experienced enough to be confident accepting that the imperfection doesn’t define the opportunity. Endeavor to see the opportunity in spite of the imperfection of the current presentation.

I suggest that you consciously use the word “plausible” as you evaluate the worthiness of an opportunity.  This helps you make a nice conceptual fit with the 4Ps futures that I discussed in this article.

Calm and Relaxed

As with any kind of strategic thinking, you will get better results if you are in a relaxed and playful state of mind.

The right attitudes and mindset towards opportunity will make you a better strategic thinker. In addition to these three attitudes, what mindsets will help you?

Tip: Strategic Thinkers Look for “What’s Interesting”

I realized (while writing the prior article, Could Strategy Be as Simple as This?) that the factor of “advantage” was the most interesting of the three strategy components (objective and scope being the other two). Advantage refers to position or potential versus another.

What makes advantage interesting as a factor of strategy? First, my experience is that many strategists seldom think about advantage. Too often, strategists assume that their job is done when they establish goals and objectives. However, a competitive reaction will always occur. Second, the idea of competitive rivalry creates the tension that makes for a good story; and stories are enormously powerful leadership tools. Third, creative and innovative ideas gain much of their power and impact simply because they address unrecognized issues. They are pleasant surprises.

This leads to a powerful question that provokes strategic thinking: Who do you want as a future competitorAs you answer the question, you imagine the evolution of your strengths and weaknesses versus a new set of competitors.

As an example of thinking about future competitors, I was part of a business development team that was leading our venture into an entirely new market, where we would no longer be competing against “mom and pop” enterprises, but would be facing well-funded and professionally-managed corporations. We constantly reminded ourselves that we would need processes and intellectual assets to be able to prevail against them – even though the competitive face-off was at least a year away.

An Aside: Why is being interesting so interesting?

The key word in this stream of thought is interesting. Strategic thinkers know that people will want to engage with someone whose ideas are eye-opening in some way. The further exploration of those ideas provides camaraderie, mental stimulation, and open up the opportunity for economic benefit.

Here is an interesting point that I learned from the management guru, Tom Peters: If you want to innovate, look to your most interesting customers. Interesting customers are typically NOT your biggest customers. Your interesting customers are trying to solve novel problems. As Eric Von Hipple – the guru of lead user research – suggests, develop and provide tool kits and search out those users who invent solutions to problems.

How to make scope interesting

The scope of strategy to determine what is “in” and “out” of consideration. I think the interesting question is where the organization chooses not to venture. Note what Chris Peters of Microsoft (Microsoft Secrets, Page 210) has to say about excluding items from the scope:

“There can be good and bad vision statements. A good statement tells you what’s not in the product; a bad vision statement implies everything is in the product. In order to give you guidance on what’s in and out, you have to kind of explain what the thing isn’t. And too often marketing will decide that it’s best if everything’s in… The hard part is figuring out what not to do. We cut two-thirds of the features we want to do in every release off the list. If we could actually write down everything we wanted to do, it would be a fifteen-hundred-page document. So the vision statement helps you in the chopping mechanism, not in the creation mechanism.”

How to create an interesting objective

An interesting objective is one that is counterintuitive.  It might possibly be of the type where one “loses the battle in order to win the war.”

Here is an example of a counterintuitive action.  In the 1940s, a group of 17 forest fire fighters were dropped into Mann Gulch in Idaho to battle a blaze. The blaze unexpectedly reversed course on the group and started running up the mountain towards them.  The leader of the group -Wagner Dodge – recognized that they could not outrun the blaze, so he built a small escape fire  to consume nearby fuel (fuel, heat, and oxygen being three necessary ingredients in fire), resulting in a protective zone.  This objective was not standard fire-fighting procedure. He survived, but those who tried to outrun the fire perished. (Gary Klien covers this incident in his book Seeing What Others Don’t. He calls this process of insight development creative desperation.)

Strategic Thinkers are Curious

The question about “interestingness” is one that a curious person would ask. Because they are curious, strategic thinkers add value to the strategic planning process. Instead of approaching strategy with a checklist mentality of completing each prescribed step and moving on to the next one, they stay alert for opportunities.

Do you agree that curiosity is an important characteristic of the strategic thinker?

Three Strategic Thinking Characteristics

Strategic Thinking Image over Kalidescope over streaming

What are the characteristics people who think strategically? Are there elements of their personality that facilitates their use of strategic thinking?

Curiosity, ambition, and pragmatism (CAP) are three important traits of strategic thinkers. These traits do not define strategic thinking nor strategic thinkers, but they provide a form of energy that motivates them to acquire and practice effective strategic thinking.


Strategic thinkers are intellectually curious.  They ask questions in purposeful kinds of ways.  Here are a few quotes that illustrate curiosity as a trait of strategic thinkers.

  • “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Albert Einstein
  • “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” Walt Disney
  • “I have never read for entertainment, but rather for understanding and to satisfy my eager curiosity.” Bryant H. McGill


Strategic thinking is hard work for most in that thinking strategically takes people out of their comfort zone. The ambition of the individual is a driving force in overcoming the status quo. Here are just a few quotes by accomplished people on the importance of ambition:

  • “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” Salvador Dali
  • “Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.” Bill Bradley
  •  “Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.” Abraham Lincoln
  •  “If the leader is filled with high ambition and if he pursues his aims with audacity and strength of will, he will reach them in spite of all obstacles.” Karl Von Clausewitz


Pragmatism is more than simply being “practical.” Pragmatism is the balance of action with reflection, as I explained in this article, action without thought is impulsiveness and thought without action is procrastination. Pragmatism is concerned with innovation and it is concerned with what works.

Pragmatism says to the prior two factors of ambition and curiosity, “Don’t go overboard. Keep perspective.”

For example, unmitigated ambition can be dangerous. Many tyrants and despots have the ambition for power, but not the ethical framework to apply their power for a higher-order principle.

Curiosity, too, can be taken to an unproductive extreme. Some people are nothing more than dreamers, accomplishing little. We want to strive for a balancing of thought and action. Consider this quote from the musician Bono.

  •  “You see, idealism detached from action is just a dream. But idealism allied with pragmatism, with rolling up your sleeves and making the world bend a bit, is very exciting. It’s very real. It’s very strong.” Bono

Pragmatism tempers the tendency to get lost in conceptualizing and moralizing. It adds purposefulness to dreaming.

Do you agree that ambition, curiosity, and pragmatism are three traits of strategic thinkers?

Strategic Thinking Defined

Strategic Thinking Image over KalidescopeStrategic thinking is defined as the individual’s capacity for thinking conceptually, imaginatively, systematically, and opportunistically with regard to the attainment of success in the future.

Let’s unpack this definition. There are six elements of strategic thinking:

Success Oriented. The word “success” needs to be considered in the context of the usual meaning of the word strategy; that is, some field of competition where the strategy exploits advantage and leads to a desirable outcome for the strategist. For example, success in a game involves winning within the boundaries of a set of game rules.  Success in a military encounter might define the victor as the entity who holds the field at the conclusion of the battle. Success in business might be defined as penetrating a new market. Success in a political campaign might be defined as winning a referendum or elected office.  Consider this: if there is no competition, there is no need for strategy.

Richard Rumult (Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, page 127) tells us that strategy involves premeditation, anticipation of the reactions of others, and the design of coordinated action.

Success is the consequence of a strategy.  Thus, strategic thinking involves considering questions such as, What are the causes of success? What is the best way to design a strategy to fit the situation?

Aside from the idea of competition, it is fair to assert that the definition of success is influenced by context, particularly of the stakeholder. Success could be determined as betterment over the existing situation.

As a practical matter, the strategic thinker needs to address fundamental question such as, Who (and what) defines success? What metrics are in use? Notice that the opinions of individual stakeholders are relevant, so  the strategist needs to consider questions such as these:  Whose opinion is most important?

Future Oriented. Strategic thinking involves looking towards the future with an appreciation that present-moment decisions will have impact on the future. The future may be very different from the status quo. Strategic thinking must consider the outputs of what is commonly called “futurology” or “strategic foresight.” A strategic thinker takes into account the past and present, as part of the inputs for considering the future.

Cognitive. Strategic thinking employs mental process that are conceptual (abstractions, using analogy to translate across contexts), systematic (composed of different components with interfaces that interact to produce intended or emergent behaviors, pattern finding, and connecting situations that are not obviously related), imaginative (creative and visual), and opportunistic (searching for and grasping new information and value propositions).  The strategic thinker applies all of these cognitive processes in the orientation towards future success.

What Strategic Thinking is Not….

  • Strategic thinking is not the same thing as critical thinking. Although critical thinking is conceptual and systematic; experience shows that critical thinkers are less likely to be imaginative and opportunistic. Critical thinking can be a useful part of strategic thinking, but many critical thinkers are unable to think strategically; for example, designing a strategy to prevail over a competitor.
  • Strategic thinking is not the same thing as creative thinking. Creative thinking is imaginative and playful. Typically, creative thinking attends to a lesser degree to concepts, systems, and opportunities. However, creative thinking exercises often place no attention on the future success orientation. Creative thinking can also be a useful component of strategic thinking, but they are not identical. Again, strategic thinking involves designing a strategy to prevail over competitors; that is not something we naturally consider in creative thinking.
  • Strategic thinking is not the same thing as visionary thinking.  Visionary thinking is often simply dreaming big with the intention of inspiring others to adopt the vision. While visions might be useful, they need to be balanced with realism, data, and insights as to how to achieve the dream.  Strategic thinking involves a deeper level of conceptualizing – compared to visionary thinking – because the outcome that is envisions will only be achieved through creating and executing a strategy.
  • Strategic thinking is not the same thing as strategic planning or long-range planning. Many have experienced strategic planning or long-range planning as attaching words to the organization’s annual budget. Still other writers refer to the front end of structured business planning processes as strategic thinking, but that implies that the same action would apply to other fields where strategy is practiced: politics, military, sports, games, etc. Frankly, this is just sloppy reasoning on their part.  Organizations create strategies to achieve success, and the process of doing this is often termed strategic planning. However, as the paragraphs below point out, strategic thinking is an individual activity to be harnesses by group processes. Strategic thinking produces insights, which become inputs to the strategic planning process. The practice of strategic thinking by the individual may inform strategic choices and decisions.

Only Individuals Can Practice Strategic Thinking

Any kind of thinking is governed by the mind, or more specifically the brain.  Commonsense tells us that individuals – even people who are genetically identical – think differently and have different learned responses to coping with the world around them.

It follows from that reasoning that organizations do not practice strategic thinking because there is no single brain or mind at work. Thus, strategic thinking refers to an individual’s style of thinking.

The transition of individual thinking style to organizational process is this:

Organizations are collections of personalities that share some common purposes and culture. Individuals within the organization collaborate by surfacing  each individual’s thinking and sharing that those insights with others. Thus, thinking is an individual cognitive capability that generates insights and collaboration is a social process of merging and adapting those insights to meet a strategic challenge.

Individual Strategic Thinking and the Organizational Capacity for Strategy

Organizations intending on improving strategy should start with the previous section: the recognition that individuals are the practitioners of strategic thinking. Here is a three-pronged approach:

1. The organization should improve individual in strategic thinking competency. This could be done by training or coaching executives, high-potential employees, and those individuals who express interest in contributing to strategy.

2. It should create a cadre of individuals with competency in strategic thinking.

3. It should emphasize collaboration in its strategic planning process. This collaboration is multifaceted: up, down, and sideways in the organization.  The focal point of this collaboration is on identifying insights and sharing/combining/exploiting those insights with resources to achieve competitive advantage.

Each individual has a different set of experiences and perspectives.  The challenge is to bring together the experiences and perspectives – and individual insights – into a synthesized understanding of the situation and the need for coordinated actions.

Do you agree with the definitions and distinctions?