The most powerful strategy question.

Make the leapHow to break out of boxed-in thinking

There’s a fundamental difference between strategy and planning. And once you understand it, it’s a difference that can open up a world of opportunities for growth.

A CEO, with whom I’ve been working for some time, recently asked if I would have a coaching session with one of his team – apparently it was something she specifically asked for in her review. I have to say, it came as something of a surprise, as the last time I’d met her, we’d had what some would call a fairly ‘robust’ dialogue.

So, to open our conversation, I asked her why she’d requested the session, and she explained, “The last time we were together, I was sure that the project on the table couldn’t be delivered for nine months, but then you asked that question. You asked ‘what would need to be true to deliver it in three?’

“When I thought about it afterwards, I realised I’ve got so used to working with a set amount of resource and balancing all the different priorities, that my mind’s become a bit boxed in.” she continued, “I think I need more conversations like this to just ‘un-stick’ my thinking.”

She’s not alone. Most of us in senior roles, especially in operations, got where we are by being good at three things: planning, managing and reacting. We’ve become expert at using all the resources we have available, to solve today’s problems today, and to deliver whatever we need to deliver this week, this month, and this year. And that’s great for delivering the budget; for managing the plan and the people. But it’s not going to help us to step-change the business, leapfrog the competition or generate extraordinary new growth.

That can only happen when you let go of the constraints of today; when you forget, just for a few hours, all those limiting assumptions about what you have and what you can do. Instead, you need to ask “what would need to be true...” to double revenues in the UK; to become bigger in China than in Europe; to put an extra £10m on the bottom line; whatever it is that you’d love to achieve.

We’re all comfortable with planning. Planning is about moving forward, with what you have, and from where you are, step by step. But strategy is different. Strategy is about working back from your boldest ambitions, and imagining what it would take to leap from here to there.

So, what would need to be true to get your business to where you really, really would love it to be?