Strategy is for Everyone (Image from Midjourney)

Distillations in this newsletter: Strategy is for Everyone; Addition sickness; Mustafa Suleyman’s ‘The Coming Wave’.


A monthly concoction of insight, learning and things you might have missed for anyone who works on strategy, works with strategy or just loves strategy.

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This month …

  • Strategy is for Everyone
  • Strategy snippets you might have missed: ‘Addition sickness’ and Mustafa Suleyman’s book ‘The Coming Wave’.

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Strategy is for Everyone

I’ve been arguing that strategy is for everyone for many years. Here are some great supporting arguments from Assaf Weinberg, Steven Stowell & Stephanie Mead and Willie Pietersen.

‘Most people think they have to be an executive to do “strategy”. Most executives think “strategy” is simply a label that applies to anything they do. Turns out they’re both wrong. Strategy is a process for getting things done that starts at the top and rolls recursively all the way through a company … If everyone in the organization thinks strategically, then every “how” is tied to the “how” above it. Strategic thinking isn’t only for executives, it’s for everyone. It starts at the top, but everyone has to apply it within their own scope to be effective. Whether you’re working in a company of 10,000 or a startup of 1, clearly defining your goal and recursively choosing your “how’s” is going to be the best way to stop being reactive and start getting things done’. Weinberg, 2021

‘If you think strategy is just for the executive team or CEO, think again. In reality, strategy is everyone’s job. Every individual inside the organization is linked to the success of the business and plays a part in the firm’s strategy mosaic. Everyone in the organization should be asking themselves, How do I add value to the business? Who are my customers? How do I drive benefits? How does my function contribute to the competitive advantage of the organization in the marketplace? To harvest strategic opportunities or avert potential hazards, each function, team, and person needs to answer these questions and take responsibility for delivering results today while formulating and implementing the strategic changes that will shape the future’. Stowell & Mead 2013

‘A survey by Right Management Consultants found that two-thirds of employees do not know or understand their company’s strategy … If a strategy exists only at the top of an organization, it will have little effect. To produce unity of action, strategy must be translated to and acted on at every level within the organization. No one is exempt. All the motivational research points to one fundamental truth. Success resides in the gap between compliance and commitment’. Pietersen, 2016

The practical implication of ‘strategy is for everyone’ is that whilst executives may devise strategy, they cannot, on their own, make it succeed. This is down to the active engagement and willing commitment of middle managers and front-line teams. Many strategy experts talk of strategy cascading through organisations and, indeed, I have in the past used the idea of a strategy cascade myself. More recently, however, I have become unsettled by the idea. It sounds too top-down; too command and control. The ‘cascade’ metaphor gives the impression of a torrent of water sweeping through the organisation whilst members of that organisation are passively swept along in its wake. The reality of a successful strategy is that individuals and teams are guided by the directionality of strategy, which inspires them to devise their own strategic ideas on how best to make the overarching strategy succeed. A strategy is the means of lighting the fires of a dozen sub-strategies. And each of these sub-strategies is a creative work of strategic thinking in its own right. So, individuals and teams across the organisation are empowered to be strategists in their own area of responsibility, in service of the organisational strategy.



Strategy snippets you might have missed

Do you suffer from ‘addition sickness’?

According to Sutton & Rao in this month’s Harvard Business Review, addition sickness is the inexorable growth of unnecessary rules, procedures, communications, tools and roles that stifle productivity and creativity. It is caused by friction blindness: as leaders become more powerful, “they tend to focus more on what they need and want and less on the challenges and inconveniences faced by others (especially people who are less powerful than they are)”. To treat addition sickness, try holding a ‘good riddance review’. Get a group of people to identify the tasks they would happily say good riddance to, prioritise the most time consuming and seemingly least justifiable and then assign them to a subtraction project. Subtraction activities can be undertaken by dedicated specialists or subtraction networks of individuals. Such subtraction efforts have in several organisations evolved into subtraction movements.

This notion of strategy tending to add more stuff rather than take anything away seems to have become something of a theme for me, having touched on the subject in Strategy Distilled last month and again on LinkedIn a couple of years ago.


Technology futures

If, like most strategists, you find yourself scratching your head about how to plan for huge technological changes that seem almost inevitable over the next 5 to 10 years, I recommend taking the time to read Mustafa Suleyman’s book The Coming Wave, which was published in September last year. It is one of those rare combinations of being deeply knowledgeable, inspiringly practical and highly readable. I learned a lot and if you want a quick 30-minute overview, watch the Intelligence Squared interview with Suleyman on YouTube.


I help leaders and teams with all aspects of strategy. Get in touch if you’d like me to help in your own organisation.


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