Sometime in early March 2020, I happened to mention to an associate on a Monday morning that I was going to bed at night thinking about Coronavirus and waking up thinking about it.

“Really?” he said, “I’m don’t think about it all”.

Within weeks we all know what happened.

I do love a bit of strategizing. Trying to stay one step ahead of the economic impact of COVID. A battle of wills on behalf of a client with an adversary. Trying to structure A4G in a way that incentivises everyone to act in a win-win way with clients and colleagues alike.

We all strategise of course whether its about small problems today or our long-term future. That thought process of “if I do this, then this might happen, in which case I’ll do this and then this might happen.” Thinking through the alternative outcomes and how we will deal with each of them.

Just in case you are a Chess Grandmaster reading this (unlikely but you never know), I understand you think somewhere between 25 and 30 moves ahead.

But even in the highly complex sport of chess, there is a finite number of outcomes. There are only 32 pieces and 64 squares. There are a phenomenally large number of outcomes of course and I’m not sure I understood the true size of the number when I tried Googling it, but it is still finite.

As a result, it’s now 24 years since the computer Deep Blue beat the world Chess champion Gary Kasparov.

24 years! How much must artificial intelligence have evolved in that time? How clever must those algorithms on the various websites be?

Very of course. But only up to a point. Because having purchased the box set of Hong Kong Phooey cartoons as a Secret Santa present for our resident Karate black belt, Amazon’s algorithm then assumed for the next two years that I would automatically be interested in any other American cartoon series from the 70s. Artificial intelligence only goes so far.

For every action there is a whole range of potential reactions. For each reaction there is a whole range of no-actions or over-reactions. And a bit of emotion thrown in which computers find really hard!

Trying to strategize about our businesses is a minefield and exhausting. Which is why some people don’t bother. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” they say.

But sometimes it is broke, and you’re just not prepared to acknowledge it.

Over the past few months as part of the BackleyBlack Mindestting programme, we’ve worked through the Foundations for Success, The Four Pillars of Performance and Key Skills.

This week’s is the first of the 4th phase (Deeper thinking) and focuses on Thinking Strategically. As Roger and Steve explain, there are two types of strategic thinking.

There’s the in the moment stuff when you have to think on your feet and adapt to opportunities and problems.

But more significantly there’s the Big Picture stuff and the importance of beginning with the end in mind. Some people are good at one and not the other. Or vice-versa.

When they do those rundowns of Britain’s favourite comedy character, invariably number one is Delboy from Only Fools and Horses.

Why do we love him so much?

One reason is that there is this juxtaposition of smart quick-thinking opportunist alongside his failure to think things through in the long-term.

There are those regular little intellectual sparring sessions with his friend Boycie which Del always wins. He’s just too sharp.

But Boycie is of course the successful businessman with the lifestyle and house to match. Clearly, he’s better than Del at the big picture stuff.

In the meantime, Del names his company Trotters Independent Traders without even considering what happens when the company name is abbreviated on its stationery and signage. Great in the moment but hopeless at long-term issues. It’s a shame John Sullivan never wrote the episode where Del visited his accountant for a strategic planning session.

Adviser: Where would you like to be in one year’s time, Mr Trotter

Del: This time next year we’d like to be millionaires

Adviser: And what’s in it for you?

Del: Well, I’ll be able to take Raquel up West a bit more often

Adviser: And where are you now?

Del: Nelson Mandela tower with Uncle Albert and a load of hooky Russian video recorders

Adviser: So, what do you need to do to get from where you are now to where you want to be?

Del: Well, I probably need to get a bit more credit with Monkey Harris or Paddy the Greek so I can shift some more gear

Adviser: And what do you think is stopping you Mr Trotter?

Del: Oh, that’s easy, it’s that brother of mine. What a plonker!

In life of course, those who start off as a bit of a Delboy with short term motivations and aspirations normally work it out in the end. A few hard lessons help them piece together a winning formula.

But if you want to get there quicker, trial and error isn’t the way. In the video on the 60:30:10 rule of growth, I explain how fast growth companies go about things. It’s a way of strategic thinking that avoids that stop-start syndrome that affects many companies.

But it’s pretty doubtful that Del would ever be focussed for long enough to employ a 60:30:10 growth plan or attend a strategic planning session for that matter. You’re more likely to be working in the moment than focussed on a long-term plan when your motto is “No income tax, no VAT, no money back, no guarantee”.

Anyway, that’s enough Only Fools and Horses references for one article. It’s only three days until the pubs open again. Lovely jubbly.

Have a good weekend.

Interview with Steve Backley and Roger Black

Deeper thinking ~ Think Strategic

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Malcolm Palmer


Managing Partner

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