It's the Strategy, stupid!

Unlock the secrets of effective strategy with a road trip analogy. Learn to map, decide, and execute your way to business success.

It's the Strategy, stupid!

I’m not here to offend you, sorry. But I recalled the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign mantra that got him the presidency - “It’s the Economy, stupid.

It highlighted the importance of economic conditions in political campaigns, emphasizing the impact of the economy on voters’ decisions. It was a call to go back to basics, clarifying a stance and a direction.

When goals seem out of reach, the team’s morale is low, people are running frantic, and blame is being passed around, it’s often a sign to look deeper and realize.

"It's the Strategy, stupid"

This isn’t an accusation but a wake-up call to reassess and realign your strategic approach. It’s a reminder that at the heart of every tangled mess, unclear goal, or failed initiative, there might be a foundational issue with the Strategy itself.

Strategy? What do you mean?

The problem is that Strategy is an overused term that has lost meaning. So, first, we need to clarify what we mean by Strategy.

It’s not just about setting lofty goals or making bold statements full of meaningless buzzwords and wishful thinking:

"To become the best in the market, we plan to leverage synergies, innovate, and diversify our offerings to cater to everyone, thereby increasing revenue by becoming more popular and reducing costs to improve profitability.”


The concept of Strategy often becomes obscured in a world brimming with buzzwords and complex definitions. Is it about setting goals? Making decisions? Or is it a process? The truth is, while defining and making a strategic impact encompasses all these aspects, the essence of Strategy delves deeper.

A Journey From Berlin to Lisbon

Imagine you’re in Berlin, dreaming of the vibrant streets of Lisbon. Your mission is clear: to reach Lisbon. But this goal is not just a destination; it’s a vision, possibly a significant milestone in your life’s journey. Perhaps Lisbon represents a new beginning, an adventure, or a profound personal goal. But how do you embark on this journey?

The Need for a Map

There are several ways to get from Berlin to Lisbon

Once you get a map, you can see there are many different paths and modes of transportation you can choose from.

A Map is a way to make sense of the world out there; it simplifies and creates structure, hierarchy, and levels of abstraction. The Map can include several types of information that will be used to find the right path. In the case of the road trip, the Map might have location-based details about roads, topography, rivers, weather, points of interest, places, and so on.

Just as you would need a map for a road trip, crafting a strategy requires a comprehensive understanding of your landscape. This “map” is not just about the roads you will take but also embodies the structured information, insights, and diagnosis of your current position concerning your market, competitors, and your own capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

Choosing Your Path: Decisions and Trade-offs

With the Map laid out, various paths from Berlin to Lisbon emerge, each with its own set of opportunities and challenges. Do you seek the quickest route, the most cost-effective, or perhaps the one offering the most breathtaking scenery?

You can choose one or several things you want to accomplish, ideally with a priority in mind: what are the “nice to haves” and the “must haves”? Maybe going through the Black Forest is nice, but picking a friend in Paris is a must-have.

This stage mirrors businesses’ strategic decisions: selecting markets, focusing resources, and determining priorities. These decisions are interconnected, each compounding to form a cohesive strategy to nail the business challenge.

Now that you have the Map spread in the table, it is time to start making decisions - what are the 3-5 key decisions, investments, and priorities that need to be set for you to tackle the challenge? A decision means there’s a choice, a fork in the road: you choose to go right instead of left - you decide to invest in a channel instead of another, focus on a (new or old) market segment, a particular use-case, and so on.

The decisions are not independent of each other. They should compound and form a coherent and strong story on tackling the challenge.

From Planning to Execution

Once the route is chosen, the real journey begins. This phase is akin to executing your Strategy, where the decisions made earlier are put into action through a coherent set of steps. It’s the movement from theoretical planning to tangible action, from being on the Map to driving on the road. You need to book hotels or buy things to pack. Here, you need to be specific and pragmatic in transforming decisions into action plans.

In business, it is time to build a plan, a coherent set of actions to implement the strategic decisions. This is where Strategy becomes an action agenda, not just some interesting analysis, wishful thinking, and well-crafted sentences.

The 3Ds of Strategy: Diagnose, Decide, Do

At its core, Strategy is an action agenda. It’s about understanding your starting point (Diagnose), choosing your course (Decide), and embarking on the journey (Do).

If you find your Strategy lacking, consider which elements need refinement. Is your understanding of the landscape detailed enough? Are your decisions aligned with your ultimate goals? Is your plan actionable and directed toward achieving your vision?

Be aware that different types of leaders may lean towards one of the Ds.

The Analytical Leader

They obsess with diagnosis and analysis, and they obsess with finding an insightful view of the market, the customer, or the product. Some will produce an endless number of charts and tables. The more conceptual kind will geek out with 2x2 matrices to describe the market positioning in some new insightful way. Both will procrastinate decisions and action plans because they are not yet ready, not certain, ... just one more analysis.

The Decisive Leader

But the most common species is the "decisive leader". They jump to decisions before they understand the challenge and the context (the diagnose). They feel confident, action-oriented, and with a sense of urgency. They despise any call for analysis and reflection. They already know what there is to know and what is needed to make a decision.

The Hands-on Leader

Another type of leader that may be mistaken for the previous one is known as the "hands-on leader". They start to implement even before any conscious, clear, and aligned decision is made (diagnose is not even a word in their dictionary). They have no time for alignment and communication. Whoever is on board, is working already with him directly on the solution.

Strategy as a Continuous Journey

The initial plan is just that, the first. Just as a road trip can encounter unexpected detours or scenic routes, the strategic journey is dynamic. It requires constant reassessment and adaptation. The destination might remain the same, but the path to get there can evolve based on new insights, market changes, or internal developments.

And that's ok, because if you truly enjoy the journey, you may not want it to end anyway.

Final Thoughts: Navigating Your Strategic Road

The analogy of a road trip from Berlin to Lisbon helps demystify and clarify the concept of Strategy. It reminds us that at the heart of strategic planning lies a simple model: it’s about understanding the context, making informed decisions, and taking coherent actions.

Whether you’re steering a startup or guiding a multinational, the principles of diagnose, decide, and do serve as your compass.

As you reflect on your own strategic journey, ask yourself: What is my Lisbon? How well have I mapped out my landscape? Are my decisions taking me closer to my destination? Remember, Strategy is not a one-time plan but a continuous journey of exploration, decision-making, and action.

Now it is your turn - Safe travels!

PS: this framework is based on the Strategic kernel by Richar Rumet. If you want to dive deeper, check out his book “Good Strategy/Bad Strategy

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