An interview with Rich Horwath, about his book “StrategyMan vs. the Anti-Strategy Squad: Using Strategic Thinking to Defeat Bad Strategy and Save Your Plan”.
What inspired you to write this book?
Interestingly, about 2010, a movie came out by Christopher Nolan called Batman Begins and it was a trilogy with the Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. And about that time I had seen the movie with my young son and we were walking out of the theater and he asked, “Dad, is there a superhero in strategy?” And I kind of laughed off the question, said “No, there’s not.” And an exercise that I do with a lot of my clients is called domain jumping, where you take the business that you’re in and then you bring it into other domains. So maybe if you’re in the software business, you think about hotels or you think about travel agencies or you think about car sharing services and you think about how might they approach your business model in the way that they create, deliver or capture value.
And so I started doing that domain jumping exercise not long after seeing The Dark Knight movie and realized that I could take the domain of strategy and bring it into this, really what was starting to emerge as a very strong comic book genre. When you think about Marvel, you think about DC and all the movies and comics that have been made over the last five to seven years, and then I started thinking about how visual everyone’s become. Everybody likes video, as you know [Constantinos 00:01:23] with the work that you’ve done. And so because we’re such a visual society now, I thought that the merging of the idea of strategy with superheroes in a visual format might be something that people would be interested in.
Who was this book written for?
The book is really for people that work in business and it’s really cross functional. So whether you’re in sales, marketing, operations, finance, IT. Any of those domains, any of those functional areas, the book is really designed to help you think about what might you do day in and day out to be strategic with your time, with your resources, with your talent, with your budget. Because what we found is that the number one cause of business failure is bad strategy. And so what does that mean for us as individuals, as we work day in and day out?
It means the people who are most effective being strategic, using their time, budget and attention and really focusing that in the areas where their goals and priorities are, are going to be the most successful. So the book is really designed to give people a roadmap and some very practical questions and tools and techniques that they can use day in and day out to be strategic. So that they’re not just doing strategy once a year, like a birthday where it happens for a couple of weeks, they put it in a big PowerPoint deck and then it kind of goes away. The research has shown the best companies are thinking about strategy on a regular basis, not just once a year.
What is a key lesson from the book?
One of the key lessons from the book is this idea of being able to make trade-offs. So most of us are very busy. We have our to do list each day. It might be on our phone or in our date planner. There’s lots of things that we have to do. And typically what happens is as we get busier and busier, we add things to our plate. We add more activities, more tasks, more projects to our plate. But what we found is that the best leaders and managers, as they add things to their plate, they’re taking things off of their plate as well. So they’re creating almost a not to do list of things that they should stop doing in order to be as effective as possible. And so one of the key takeaways from the book and we have 20 villains in the book and they’re all members of the Anti-strategy Squad. And each of the villains actually represents a challenge that managers face. So things like bad meetings, silos, fire drills, misalignment of strategy.
What we’ve done is we’ve represented each of those strategy challenges in the form of a villain. So fire drills is Fire Driller, bad meetings is The Meeting Menace. There’s Frankenstrategy, there is Misalignment, there’s Siloclops. And so one of the characters is Dr. Yes, who fails to say no to anything. So Dr. Yes just takes everything that comes his way and becomes very ineffective. So as I mentioned, one of the key takeaways is really understanding where are you spending your time, your talent, and your budget each week? And then understanding what should we stop doing? What should we do less of so that we can be more effective in other areas. So that would be one of the key takeaways.
When you think about an architect and they’re creating a structure, whether it’s a house or a commercial building, they always have a blueprint. And that blueprint gives everyone who’s involved in the project a keen sense of what they’re building, where they’re going with this project, what the direction is. And so what we’ve done is we’ve created a strategy print for businesses, which is basically a blueprint for your business. So the roadmap, one of the key roadmap tools is a strategy print, which is a two page blueprint that really sums up your business. So page one really captures the insights. What are the key things about your market? About your customers? About the competitors? And then also about your company. So what are those key learnings that help you create value for your market?
And then page two is really your action plan. It’s your goals, your objectives, your strategies, your tactics, and then your metrics. So it’s very concise, two pages and it allows you to stay focused throughout the year and not get distracted by a lot of the things that come up on email or text messaging that tend to pull us off of what our real priorities are. And having a spending time on things that aren’t as important. So that roadmap, one of the key roadmap tools is that strategy print, that two page blueprint that people can update on a regular basis to make sure that they’re following their game plan.
How should we approach strategic planning?
Typically, what I’m finding these days is that people are doing their plans primarily one year out. Typically, in the past people do three year plans, five year plans and some people are still doing that. But I think what we’ve found is because of the pace of change with technology and other things from a global perspective that usually one year from a resource perspective, one to three years is about right. So typically what I find is that organizations are sitting down as teams towards the end of the year, October, November, if they’re starting their year in January. And they’re going through having live workshops where they’re talking about the business, challenging each other, going through innovative thinking exercises to come up with what is going to be their priorities for the following year?
And then typically as you mentioned on Monday, each person would sit down, they would look at their strategy print and understand what are the priorities they have for the week and how are they going to accomplish those? And then at the end of the month, a unit, a team, a business group would get together and share their learnings, their results from that month and then go back and revise, hone their strategy print for the next month. So typically, you would work on it from an individual perspective and then get together as a team to make sure that the collective effort is all pulling in that same direction.
What is a key takeaway from the book?
Well, in the book the main journey for the team that’s battling these Anti-strategy Squad villains is really to save their strategic plan, which is dying because of strategy [inaudible 00:07:56] which is the killing of the plan by these villains. And so what we find at the end of the book is that the plan is dying because there’s no new insights, no new thinking that’s going into the plan. And it’s a good real world takeaway, because typically what teams are doing, the research shows is that 92% of groups are allocating their resources the same way, year in and year out. Even though many things in their market, their competitive landscape are changing, they’re doing things in the same way.
They’re not setting time aside to think about what’s that new value that can help our customers create new growth for their business? And then also drive the success and growth, profitable growth of our business. So that would really be the main takeaway is challenge your team. What’s the new value that we’re providing to our internal customers and to our external customers? And set time aside to really think about how are we going to drive that new value? What’s going to create that differentiation for us in the market that we exist in?