It’s always interesting reading how other people view strategy, and Vince Law’s WTF is Strategy? is a very entertaining read. Like a lot of my posts, it’s quite digital product-oriented, but I think these principles are pretty general and should apply for most people.

What is interesting is that one of the examples he uses – taking a road-trip across the States – is exactly an example that I cover early on in “A Practical Introduction to Wardley Mapping“. It’s different in some notable ways – his journey is east-west while mine is north-south, because the goals are totally different – but it’s very insightful that he chose such a similar example to mine to illustrate the point. This also helps point out the differences in our approaches!

I really like Vince’s abstract model for thinking about the connection between mission and execution. Strategy is a very important piece that joins everything up. I don’t quite agree with his description of a Pivot, though: for me, this could be a change in strategy, but isn’t necessarily. Famously, soylent pivoted from being a wireless network infrastructure start-up to meal replacement, in what Paul Graham called “the biggest pivot in YC history“. This was a complete change in mission for the company, which implied a knock-on change to everything else – vision, strategy, roadmap and execution

I agree with Vince that if the strategy isn’t changing, you don’t have a pivot – but frankly, I’m not sure that a change in strategy is enough to describe something as a pivot. That, to me, is a change in mission or at least vision.

Vince’s statement that, “you can absolutely start driving without a strategy“, I also think is unclear. I don’t believe it’s possible to operate without a strategy – although it is totally possible that you’re not able to explicitly state what your strategy is. Relying on gut feel to make decisions is a strategy, after all – it’s just highly unlikely to be effective. I don’t think I’m fundamentally disagreeing with Vince’s ideas here, though.

However, there is one statement where I think we do have a difference of opinion: “As you can see, strategies are decisions you make at the onset of your journey to structure your route, but you are also injecting constraints and preferences into the equation”. I prefer the idea that a strategy is the thing that guides your decision making as you go along; if you’re locking yourself into a series of constraints and cannot change your overall approach to a problem, what you have instead are tactics.

Let’s take an example. If you have to detour, that shouldn’t imply any change to strategy. The strategy should guide you in terms of the next best route – which is the one likely to take me through the areas I want to go through? If the detour is a long one, you may need to spend more time taking the decision, but a roadblock in execution shouldn’t imply any change in strategy. Your vision definitely hasn’t changed, and the fact you’ve encountered something you didn’t predict doesn’t imply the strategy was bad – in fact, you should have a strategy to enable you to deal with the change you encounter!

What you should also have, though, is a system to evaluate your strategy – a way of determining how effective it is. While you’re going along the journey in Vince’s example, if you’re spending more than 80% of your time on the road not in national parks maybe the strategy is a poor one?

Sadly Vince doesn’t really outline the connection between the vision and the strategy in this instance; maybe the vision is to see as many sights as possible, or to have an enjoyable experience rather than a fast trip. So, if we find we’re not spending enough time in national parks, we might call our strategy a failure and then decide to broaden it to include non-national park visits as well – because the key point is enjoyment.

The example of Tesla is great, though – their strategy (and overall mission) is indeed pretty public, and while I’m not convinced it’s necessarily the whole enchilada as it were, it makes for a great example because we’ve seen their statements about where they’re going before they executed – so we can see that the strategy did indeed guide their behaviour, and in fact it would probably be possible to engineer their strategy by looking at the various decisions they took.

Everyone in a company should understand the strategy. That’s why I started writing a practical guide to Wardley Mapping; these maps are a great way of communicating this at all levels in a way that most people will understand.