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How a Simple Approach to Strategy Helped Me Write an Amazon Best Seller

On Strategy

As a co-founder of a digital marketing and social media agency that’s steadily grown over the last 13 years, serving hundreds of brands (from startup to fortune 10) — you can imagine how common the word strategy is in the discussions I’ve had. What have I concluded?

Strategy is the most misunderstood word in business.

Is it possible that people and organizations are expecting strategy to naturally occur in the course of every-day thinking and breathing? “We are strategic thinkers here,” is a phrase I’ve heard on countless occasions, so I’ll say the answer is yes. Practically, I’d still contend there’s a lack of understanding around the value, and even meaning, of strategy.

Everyone agrees, “we should lead with strategic thinking.” They will intuitively nod to the value of planning, clever frameworks that facilitate decision making, collaboration, even deliverables that outline actions with related roles and measures – but guess what? They’d more often rather pay for tactics and quick wins.

I get it. “Tactics” relate to verbs, what we are actually doing to get the results we want. But it’s a mistake to conclude strategy is somehow devoid of tactics.

If you don’t believe you have a strategy, but say your tactics are working — it’s because your tactics are borrowing from someone else’s strategy.

That’s fine for a little while, but as you (and/or your business) mature – the call to make it instead of fake it increases in urgency. Your voice, contribution, brand… hastens on the edge of brilliance and creativity. This is where you can make the jump, where your own strategy helps set you apart as a leader.

Anecdotal Wisdom vs. Applied Learning

Consider the following example you may have even experienced yourself: You go to a conference and watch a great keynote speaker deliver pure wisdom and lessons learned. This individual has boiled it down for everyone, has visual aids to demonstrate process, high energy to keep people engaged and tweet-worthy phrases so rich and profound, you’re scrambling to get them in your phone or notebook.

You walk away with a new revelation, feeling inspired about the difference this will make in how you think and go about life/work in the near and distant future. You now have answers to problems you’ve been trying to solve, and suddenly it’s all so clear. It’s a whole new world.

Fast-forward 2 months, and consider what’s happened with your new revelation. Have you referred often to those notes you took? Do they still capture the excitement and meaning they had when you recorded them? Are others around you now mobilized for change as a result of what you took from that keynote? In most cases, I’d say the answers are no, no and no.

Why? Because the wisdom you lifted from that keynote speaker isn’t yet yours. Until you apply it yourself, your learning is left paralyzed in the wilderness. You felt the spark when you first heard it, but incorrectly assumed a fire was then lit. So it is with strategy: the power comes not in hearing, but in doing — and without investment (time, people, money), you get stuck knowing what could or should be instead of what will be.

What a successful organization invests in is the clearest indicator of how its people are aligning under a common purpose — whether it’s a two-person start-up business, or 200-person marketing department in a Fortune 500 company.

Much of what I can articulate when it comes to strategy is inspired from the essential material created and delivered by my friends and colleagues at Conversant. Although there are plenty of brilliant frameworks, philosophies and practices around strategy, what I’ve humbly adopted as my own was birthed from Conversant’s Credibility, Influence and Impact conference series with which I was privileged enough to participate over an eight-month period. Here’s the summary...

ALL strategy starts with a single question: What is it time for now?

This is as simple and as eloquent as it gets. I can’t emphasize enough the significance of this question, because actually asking it sets the course for a level of critical thinking and commitment that has the power to change everything.

Sound oversimplified? Here’s why it’s not. When you are neck deep and passionately (or stressfully) engaged in the business of your work, the practice of lifting your head to stop and ask what is it time for now isn’t natural. In fact, it’s so unnatural, you may go months – even years, without proactively considering it.

The fundamental answer to this question is always the same: it’s time for a shift. It’s time to shift from ______________________ to ____________________. You (or you and your team) now fill in the blanks.

How Do You Know the Desired Shift is Occurring?

Yes, you may reach for familiar, quantitative performance metrics as a first answer (have we not heard enough about the importance of measurement?). However, I’d challenge you to consider a more simplified, even emotional aspect of how you might judge progress.

How this Played Out in Authoring the Book, Transformative Digital Marketing

Allow me to share a personal example: I set a goal nearly seven years ago to write a book.

Because I wanted it to be on the topic of marketing (which is always changing), it took me five years to determine an angle that was unique and relevant enough to merit the effort. From there, it took almost two more years to write that beast.

As my co-authors patiently waited for me to follow through with my part, I can’t even tell you how many times I found myself in a slump of self-loathing. I’d throw one section out, then entirely rewrite another.

The chapter outline changed, the title changed, the book cover changed, three companies I referenced in the context of smart digital marketing tactics went out of business…it was a never-ending slog of unfinishedness, and it seemed like the worst of me was ever present.

Then a group of people, including my wife Keely, came to the rescue to help me ask, “What is it time for now?” The simple answer was it was time to shift from the way I was attempting to write the book to a new way that would enable me to successfully finish it.

Yes, I could track the number of pages or chapters I was completing against a newly revised schedule. But more importantly, I began tracking the level of happiness and energy I had with each day I followed through on writing when I said I would.

Vitality and Method

This became my tipping point for succeeding in the shift. In summary, my incremental (daily) reflection on how positive the feeling was in following through helped perpetuate my dedication far more than considering how many pages or chapters I was finishing.

I was satisfying requests of myself with which I once failed to comply. That helped me more confidently announce commitments to others, furthering accountability to the entire process.

After aligning on the shift, and creatively determining how you’ll know it’s happening -- the final piece is establishing the method you’ll commit to making your shift happen. One mantra I like to practice includes aligning deeply, acting quickly and adjusting often. In this context, that means you are free to change the method if it’s not working…but have one.

In my example, there was really nothing special about the method. What eventually worked best for me was committing to write five days a week from 5am-8am. I got very intentional about taking time to focus and reflect on how happy I was at the end of each day when this was done. Again, this became my key measurement, and I’d carry that energy as inspiration for the next morning when I’d start over again.

Make the Right Thing Easy

Strategically, the key to adopting an effective method is to make doing the right things easier. At first, that might mean doing a little hard work to clear a path where barriers have thrived.

This may require forming fresh habits, being open to learning something new, and unafraid to seek help from others who may be more willing to assist than you think. As right becomes easier, you’ll tend to notice wrong gets more difficult.

Hopefully, this view on strategy as a collective question, measure and method puts you in a better position to act. From there, you can gain your own wisdom and apply your own learning.

Jason Cormier

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