Fast Strategy


Image courtesy of Combined Media.

This is a little piece I did to publicise the Fast Strategy Conferencethat the IPA Strategy Group is running in a couple of weeks. It’s about the need for us to think faster if strategy is to be of continued value and about the death of the ponderous planner.

The days of the stereotypical strategist are over.
The business world has little time for the desperately bright, painfully academic, socially inept and ponderous planner. Because, as speed to market and speed of response become powerful competitive advantages, the business world has little time for strategy that gets in the way or slows things down. The perfect strategy delivered to market shortly after the competition has taken you to the cleaners is of no use to man or beast.
Indeed, in our time squeezed environment it is tough to make the case for strategy at all. In many agencies we are witnessing the emergence of a ‘ready, fire, aim’ culture. Account people are drawn to this trigger happiness because of their preference for heat over light while creative directors love it because they can give their talent the maximum amount of time possible to bark up any number of wrong trees. And us strategists? Well we simply throw up our arms in despair.
And the problem lies in part with the exalted position we have given strategy within our industry. We regard planners and strategists as tortured geniuses as they wrestle with the thorny issue of differentiating parity products in the yellow fats market and we wait for the white smoke to issue from the Vatican chimney to show that their work is done. Great strategy is utterly desirable but in the heat of the battle, utterly dispensable.
The truth is that strategy is needed now more than ever – to simplify, guide and inspire. But if we are to combat the obsession with firing before taking aim we have to deliver great thinking faster, rather than asking people to wait while we deliberate.
Of course there is nothing clever about strategy, it is simply about having a plan. And a good plan need not take an age to develop, it simply requires a bit of inspiration and to safe guard a little time in the process.
And that’s the idea behind Fast Strategy. Fast strategy is about delivering powerful thinking quickly, whether in days, hours or minutes, so that strategy remains in the picture and we can at least aim our activity before squeezing the trigger.
Every great strategist has tricks of the trade that help them to deliver great thinking fast and this year’s IPA Strategy Group conference will throw the spotlight on some of these approaches. Not only will showcase the strategic shortcuts of 50 leading practitioners but we will also witness fast strategy in the flesh as three communications legends compete in real time to crack a live client problem.
Some will say that Fast Strategy dumbs down the contribution of strategists to the discipline of solving business problems. I suspect they will tend to be those desperately bright, painfully academic, social inept and ponderous planners whose time has passed.

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10 Replies to “Fast Strategy”

  1. We frequently ask our clients to keep the pace of the innovations and changes that are happening in our world, but definetly as you said, we aren´t prepared to keep the pace ourselves.
    Last year I wrote a post about how we need to be prepared for the unexpected, prepared to improvise in order to be able to react quick enough, but actually a good impro takes a lot of planning and preparation. Maybe that´s what we need right now, don´t you think?
    The URL of the post is this:

  2. So true, one thing working in Asia did for me was to press that particular point home – no benefit having a delicately finessed strategy if the market has already moved on by the time it comes to fruition. As Daniel says, its a matter of being well prepared so you can be quick to react.

  3. If you see planning as a set of business decisions or choices that have to be made (which I do), Fast Strategy makes total sense. Why should planners be exempt from the realities of the rest of the business world?
    I think there are two things that are required from a planner if strategy is to become faster. First, there’s the knowledge/information/experience part. Second, there’s the judgement/decision-making part, which isn’t only about analysing and processing available information into knowledge, but also about being bold enough to make decisions when knowledge is missing.
    What I’ve also noticed is that experienced creatives are also very good at planning without being formal planners. Without formalising the problem, they intuitively know what the solution to the problem at hand is (not always, but sometimes). From a Fast Strategy point of view, it is possible to shorten total project time by running two parallel processes: strategy and creative solution. Strategy can be optimised by backtracking the creative solution. Creative solution can be improved by an optimal strategy. An iterative approach like this is chaotic and dynamic, but can save time. And best of all, strategy plus solution comes in a very neat package.
    This puts the usefulness of creative briefs into perspective, but that’s a totally different discussion I guess.

  4. Yes, I buy into fast strategy and always have, was there ever a time when briefs could be pondered, if so I must have missed it.
    But is thinking faster the only way for ‘strategy is to be of continued value’?
    I hope not.

  5. Death to having to produce “evidence of industry”
    I’ve found that given a timeline, you can always find ways to deliver a strategy. I always wonder “if I had more time, would I have got to a richer place?”.
    Have only read the first chapter of “Blink” but he must be driving in this direction…

  6. hi andiho
    obviously in this ‘fstr’ world you won’t have time to read the rest of blink
    … are books about to become redundant?
    damn I’m not sure I have time to post this note….

  7. Wait, wait… we should call this – ‘Jumping To Conclusions’.
    We had a situation in the agency last week when, during a new biz Kick-Off meeting, we found ourselves defining the problem and the solution before many people had time to catch their breath. Only to find that some felt that while the creative strategy had certainly served ‘time’, some people in the room weren’t sure it was actually right.
    The planners that had led this discussion were seen (by some) in a whole new light – quick and dirty.
    Perhaps there’s a happy medium somewhere between ponderous and ‘coming too quick’.

  8. absolutely adrian, the worry is that too much pace means not enough substance in practice.
    While it’s fine that the good and the great showcase their brilliance and experience with some flashy thinking on their feet (lets not forget Richard wrote this as a bit of publicity for a great event, and NOT a manifesto for the future of planning, or at least not intended to be) this is not necessarily the way forward for strategy.
    Or at least I think not.
    As I said, I’m not against pace, but not pace at any cost.
    Planning has to be nimble, it also has to be ‘right’ and I have to say that real insight and a strategy with traction isn’t that easy to find, and often time consuming to argue. (I’m assuming no one is advocating ‘planning as interpretor of client brief’ as the future).
    The key to decent planning is decisiveness rather than speed. Pace is the bi-product.

  9. Ohh – I like the distinction between speed and decisiveness. Pace is indeed the bi-product of strategic decisiveness.

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