Blair Enns - What Is Strategy?

The lovely and talented Blair Enns joins me to explore the question: WHAT IS STRATEGY?
The lovely and talented Blair Enns joins me to explore the question: WHAT IS STRATEGY?




Jonathan (00:00): Hello and welcome to ditching hourly. I'm Jonathan Stark. And today I am joined by a very special guest Blair ends. Blair, welcome back to the show. Thank you, Jonathan. Great to be here. So I feel like you need no introduction, but can I put you on the spot and for anybody who hasn't heard your name before you maybe give them a, a quick name, rank and serial number. Yeah,

Blair (00:22): Name rank. So I'm the founder and CEO of win without pitching the sales training organization for creative professionals. I've written two books the win without pitching manifesto in 2010 and pricing creativity, a guide to profit beyond the billable hour in 2018, three years ago.

Jonathan (00:47): Great stuff. Love it. Okay. So the, the sort of impetus for this conversation was a tweet that you tweeted, obviously something you posted on Twitter about strategy. So what's the, what's the sort of backstory here.

Blair (01:01): Yeah. And I forget exactly what the exchange was, but you and I were trading some pretty good definitions of strategy. One of my hobbies is I collect answers to the question, what is strategy? Because strategy is one of those words, like time and money are in the same category. They're they're words. We think we know the meaning of them until we're asked to define them. And then it turns out very few people have satisfactory answers to the question of what is strategy. And then when you get into that, then it's, it begs all kinds of other questions around this topic of strategy. So it's a rich vein for a podcast episode that's for sure.

Jonathan (01:43): Absolutely. Well, so what are some of the answers that you've collected? I mean, do, do you feel like there are, do you feel like they sort of coalesce around a correct answer or is it just like people have different definitions and if it works for them great. What do you, what do you, what are your findings?

Blair (02:03): I I've, I've asked hundreds of people this question, and I've asked it from a stage, you know, many times as well. So, you know, easily, I've heard hundreds of answers where, or in excess of 100 answers. And the most common answer is just an insufficient answer is an answer that, that says this person hasn't thought about the question, which isn't, you know, I'm, I'm sure there, there are a hundred words that I think I know the definition to that. If you ask me to define, I couldn't have a strategy, is, is one of those words. Usually the answer is some variation of a really smart plan. But the origin of the question why I first started asking it was so win without pitching is a training company, but we used to be, we used to be me a solo consulting practice. And I used to hear from my clients a lot.

Blair (02:53): So creatives who have made their creativity, their business. So some designers starts at design firm. I used to hear from my clients when they were talking about their competitors, they would say, Oh, they're a really good firm, but they don't do strategy. Meaning they're not as smart as we are. Right. And so I started asking what strategy and people were just absolutely flummoxed by the question. So the answer is, tend to coalesce around a plan. Well, let's strategy is a plan. It's a detailed plan. Okay. So strategy is the plan. No, no, it's more than a plan. It's a really smart plan.

Jonathan (03:35): It's a really smart piece that I think people get hung up on. Like what does really smart mean?

Blair (03:39): Yeah. And then strategic as a modifier when you're positioning your firm we're a strategic design firm. Okay. What does that mean? Well, it means we're smart. It means we do the strategy. What strategy it's planning. Okay. So strategy is a plan. No, no, no. So we ended up in this circular discussion.

Jonathan (03:59): Right? Right. So w the ones that, so a couple things to just chime in and kind of pile on there. I hear a lot of people use the word strategy incorrectly, which is different than defining it wrong. Cause I think if I asked the very same people to define strategy, they would say something like it's knowing what not to do or same, same with you. It's like a really smart plan. But I hear, I hear like a different, I hear people just use the word in the wrong place. Like people ask me like, what's a good SEO strategy or what's a good email marketing strategy. And what they're really asking for is tactics. And, you know, and they're asking about something extremely low level, they're looking for tips like tips and tricks on how to use drip more efficiently or something, or how to use social media more effectively.

Jonathan (04:49): And you might, and some of those things would come out of an overall, like a higher level strategy. And, you know, based on the strategy, they're going to be tactics that are aligned or misaligned with the strategy, but they don't, but they have a tendency to just use the word synonymously with tactics, which is always something that I makes me nervous for them. Because if they, if they think that, you know, what, you know, like picking a time of day to tweet is a strategic thought process, then I'm like, okay, let's we need to have a conversation here.

Blair (05:22): Well, Oh, so we're going to have to unpack both of these words, strategy and tactics, because, you know, I, the more I learn about it, the more I see there, isn't really a universal universal definition. And there are three definitions that I've heard that I like. And I remember I don't, I didn't go back and look it up. I remember liking yours. So there would be, there's probably five ones that I've heard that I've liked. And the three that there are three that I've held onto. And the, and the most recent one is one that really challenges some traditional ideas of what strategy might be. So what's, you've got a, you've thought about this question. What's your definition of strategy

Jonathan (06:03): A bit long, but I can't, I can't make it shorter and not lose something I think is meaningful. So, so from memory it's, as strategy is a high, a concise high-level approach to achieving an objective that applies strengths, your strengths against some things, weaknesses in a surprising way.

Blair (06:23): Yeah. So there are a lot of keywords there, so I've thought of high level. Yeah. What else did you have? It's a high level, concise and high level, high level and put, going

Jonathan (06:35): For achieving an objective. So that, that's the most important, like to me that's the, the most straightforward piece of it. It doesn't give you any direction, but it does say that it's gotta be, it's gotta be short. It's gotta be clear. It's gotta be high level. It's not a list of things to do. It's an approach to it critically to achieve an objective. So if you don't have an objective, there's no strategy. You can't have a strategy without an objective. So to me, any strategy meeting would, or, you know, discussion or thought process would start with what are we trying to achieve? And then how can we do that? It like, what's the approach that we could take that would apply strength to weakness in a surprising way.

Blair (07:16): I also like the word concise, the idea that you can explain it succinctly. My first definition that I, I cobbled together from a few different that I found and I liked. And the bulk of it, I actually read on Wikipedia is this strategy is an idea that describes a journey to a position of advantage. So the idea follows your point about being concise. You need to be able to sum it up very succinctly and describes a journey. What I mean by describes a journey is you can easily tactics where the steps, if you see tactics as the steps in the strategy, and maybe I haven't actually thought too deeply by the word tactics, but tactics are the steps to implementing the strategy are implied or easily inferred. And then position of advantage is the, you know, the objective, the competitive the competitive game that you're hoping to achieve. So I really like that definition of yours. Do you want to say it one more time? Just for my benefit?

Jonathan (08:27): Sure. So a concise high-level approach to achieve an objective or achieving an objective by applying strengths against weaknesses in an unsafe, in a surprising way.

Blair (08:37): Yeah. Yeah. And then surprising is another important word. And I think I hadn't thought about that, but there's a tenant of systems thinking I think, or information systems that I'm trying to think of the author of this. And you know, all of the big names are escaping me, but they'll come to me. That information is surprise, no surprise, no information. I really liked the idea that there's something surprising there. I'm not, I wonder if that's defensible, I really like it, but I wonder if it's survived scrutiny.

Jonathan (09:13): So in my blog post about this, I do say that that last piece, the surprise piece is potentially optional in a situation where it's not as competitive. So you've got a, you could imagine having a strategy where you don't have to communicate it to anyone. It's just you know, my objective is to, I don't know get my garage clean and the strategy I'm going to use is is instead of going through everything, you know, the big picture strategy is I'm just going to Chuck everything and okay, okay. What does that mean? You know, and then you you'd have tactics versus, you know, I'm going to sell everything or versus, you know, just like us, but this is kind of, it's kind of, it becomes like not meaningless, but strategy at that level. It becomes less important, I guess when there's not some kind of competitor, you know what I mean?

Jonathan (10:12): So if there is some kind of competitor, whether that's another client or, you know, it's like a war situation, I feel like the surprise, every, every strategy that I would look back on always had that element of surprise that made it really made it instantly genius, where you're like, wow, that might not work. Of course, because strategy is a leap of faith. Like if you knew it was going to work, it's not a strategy. It's like, you've got this objective. You could do five, five different strategies for achieving the objective, you know, frontal assault, guerrilla, warfare, very different strategies. And then the tactics are gonna either align or not align with the chosen strategy. So when it's, when it's, when the S when the stakes are high, I think that surprise piece is pretty important when the stakes are low, maybe it's optional. It probably is optional.

Blair (11:02): Yeah. I w I'm trying to think of example. So I've written I'm a big fan of Ben Thompson who writes this strategically. I was listening to him the other day on his podcast. Talk about the, I think it's fair. A fair child. Fairchild semiconductor is in a conversation about Intel, but when they said, okay, we're going to, we're going to go to market with these chips at a dollar, a piece or whatever the price was way be way below the market price, or even their cost at the moment. So the strategy is we're going to sell so cheaply. We're going to drive the volume way up. That's going to drive production efficiencies. Eventually we will be able to produce this at a profit, and we will just dominate the market. And that's exactly what happened. And that's Anne Thompson was talking about when he announced this at some conference, everybody in the room just had this audible reaction. Whoa, that's surprise. And that was a dominant strategy that changed the field.

Jonathan (12:01): Yeah. The example I use is that that is fictional obviously, but the star Wars, the original star Wars movie, the objective was to blow up the death star. The strategy was to send an absurdly small force to sneak through their defenses and explode a critical vulnerability. And the tactics were all the things that they know. So like as, as Luke is flying through the, you know, the tactics would be things like, you know, the leaders will go into the trench and the rest of the each team will flank them and try and keep the tie fighters off and shoot the ground cannons so that the leader can go in and do the thing. So every time they're making a decision about which way to fly or how far apart the spaceships should be, those are all tactical decisions. And they're going to change constantly in response to feedback from the situation it's normal for tactics to change a lot. It's not normal. If your strategy is changing a lot, like when Luke shuts off his targeting computer, that's a tactical decision. It was not a strategic shift. He didn't, he didn't make a strategic change. The, the objective and the strategy remained the same, but he just, you know, changed his mind about exactly how he was going to execute it.

Blair (13:11): The objective look, the desktop strategy is put a shot into the exhaust port and the tactics are all of these things and him making a decision to shut off the nav and use the force. That's the tactical a moment that's a tactical decision made in the moment in pursuit of the strategy. Right.

Jonathan (13:27): But I would stress one thing about the strategy though. So like they could have had a full frontal assault on the death star with all of their, all of their forces and just,

Blair (13:35): No we're talking about seriously because star Wars, Israel, this is not a fish oil example. Go on. Okay.

Jonathan (13:41): Exactly. I think we're both around that age where it was real. But yeah, I think the surprise and the surprise piece is that like you, it's insane to send X wings or after the death star, it's like certifiably bonkers. But they're there, they could have tried to shoot from the moon and hit the exhaust part. It would have been just as crazy, or they could have sent their entire force and try and overwhelm them. So like, so yeah, so the exploit, the critical vulnerability, but with, but the S the real piece of the strategy that's interesting to me is that they chose to use just an absurdly small force to sort of sneak in versus a frontal assault or some ground, some attempt to send something from the ground.

Blair (14:26): Now, let me back that into my definition of strategy, which is an idea that describes a journey to a position of advantage, position of advantages. The death star is blown up, right? The idea is we, we exploited it through the vulnerable place, the exhaust port. And then the, basically we, we, we have to, we have shoot a laser cannon or whatever it is, or not a candidate, but we have to put a shot into the exhaust port. And from that, you can kind of infer a bunch of different tactics that might be appropriate.

Jonathan (15:02): [Inaudible] Yeah. Yeah. The tactics almost imply themselves with the strategy is good.

Blair (15:08): All right. Now, so I think the word strategy, I believe I've looked it up in years past, but I have a great memory. It's just short. I believe it's about origins. I believe so, too. Yeah. Yeah. So it's almost always like, so the the desktop is a great example. But then we move it into a business context. I think things start to change a little bit, because my next, just speaking chronologically in terms of the definitions of strategies that I've really embraced, the next one I like is Michael Porter's, which is from Harvard business school, who says, strategy is the answer to the question, how are we going to become and remain unique?

Jonathan (15:53): Oh, that's really good. There's this, there's a danger in that one though, because it, the how it doesn't say anything about concise. So like the, how will often be misinterpreted as a detailed plan, which I don't think is strategy, but yeah.

Blair (16:07): Yeah. Well, it's going to get even worse when I get to the third definition, because we're definitely going in the anti concise direction.

Jonathan (16:15): I do like that one though. I just think there's a lot of room for misinterpretation.

Blair (16:19): Yeah. So when I think of like we've got a fair amount of overlap, or at least a little bit of overlap in our, in our, in the audiences that we serve creative and tech and the like, there's, you know, they're all kind of merging together and correct me if I'm wrong, but yeah. In the world that I serve creative professionals, what does it mean to be creative? Creativity is effectively the ability to see it's not the ability to write or draw it's the ability to bring a novel perspective to a problem. So creative people, and I mean, include all people who are creative and most entrepreneurs are creative, right? They are. Because that is their superpower is effectively solving the problem. They haven't previously solved. They have this positioning problem. They'd like to position, position their firms to be really, really broad so that they're able to solve all kinds of problems for all kinds of businesses.

Blair (17:17): So that's one of the fundamental issues that we get to. So this that I'm dealing with in a, in an advisory basis, there are a lot of poorly positioned, greater firms. Now it's getting up getting a lot better as internet search strive. Some very specific searches. People are looking for very specific types of firms. So most firms have responded, but it's in the nature of that creative person to really broaden out their positioning. And I want to come back to this, this connection between positioning and strategy, it's effectively the same thing, but back to Michael Porter's idea, how are we going to become and remain unique? The creative business, the big challenge for decades of the creative business has been lack of uniqueness because everybody is effectively saying, well, we're creative problem solvers. Bring us your problem. We haven't solved before. And that was kind of the stake. They put it in the ground or didn't put in the ground,

Jonathan (18:08): Right? Yeah. And like, all of their marketing materials are like, you know, we're smart people who solve hard problems and it's like, okay, but that's what everyone's saying. So, and you, and they may know internally that they have some different process, you know, like, you know, this firm might know that they have a better process than that from cause they used to work at the other firm and now they work at this firm. Yeah. There needs to be a meaningful difference, a difference that is meaningful to the buyer, a difference that the buyer understands, which is perhaps something that's much more high level. It almost certainly is something more high level than, than your internal process or how smart your people are, what your hiring process is. Yeah. So the difference and I do agree. Positioning is extremely strategic. I think there there's tons of overlap there between those two things. And they're to the point where it's almost effectively the same thing in a business context.

Blair (18:59): Yeah. I think in if, if we have time, I'd like to come back to that and unpack the definition of positioning versus strategy and see where, where we get kind of tripped up. So, so for, for my audience of creative firms, I really like Michael Porter's definition because there is a lack of trying to be truly meaningfully unique among what I would call the creative professions, advertising and design.

Jonathan (19:25): Well, you could argue that that that's being unique is one strategy. You, there could be another story.

Blair (19:32): I would say that is your strategy. Your strategy is how are you going to be unique?

Jonathan (19:37): Okay. Fair enough. Because the, the uniqueness could be that we're the low cost solution and that's your base. Okay. Fair enough. Yeah. Yeah. I see that. Okay. Like you're a generalist, but you're unique in the sense that you're the low cost option.

Blair (19:50): Yes. It's not a desirable position, but if you have a production advantage, you've invented the logo making machine. Exactly. that's a, that's a strategy. That's a position in the marketplace.

Jonathan (20:02): Yup. Yeah. Or you build a SAS that does this thing that, that now you don't need designers anymore, or you build, you build Upwork or 99 designs or something.

Blair (20:11): Yeah. Now do you want to get into the paradigm shattering definition of strategy that will just stress everything we've talked about so far? Yeah. That's my favorite sounds great. So I'm going to have to read this. This was sent to me from a couple of clients of mine a few years ago. And this also comes from Harvard business school. Ken Andrews strategy is a stream of decisions over time, which reflect the goals of the firm and the means by which the firm achieves those goals. So when I remember sitting in a restaurant having dinner, my wife and I, and a couple one from Australia, one from New Zealand sitting there talking about strategy and they had met at Harvard business school and they dropped this point on me. And I said, well, wait a minute. But based on that definition, strategy can only be determined in hindsight because it's a stream of decisions. And they said, yes, exactly.

Jonathan (21:14): Yeah, no, that is, I fundamentally disagree with that. Yeah,

Blair (21:19): I think. And I haven't. So this definition has been quoted in a couple of books. One's called aligning the stars. I forget the gentleman's name. I haven't read it yet. I've lived through it. And I've since seen it out there in the world a few times particular, particularly from professionals who have attended Harvard. So it's definitely a Harvard business school definition. And one of the things I like about this is it's really easy to say what our strategy is, but most declarations of strategy are just or so aspirational than never pulled off. So to me, this is a really pragmatic, almost cynical look at what strategy is. So you could, you could summarize it by saying strategy. Isn't what you say, it's what you do. That's not the full definition, but that would be part of their implied definition would be strategy is really the decisions that you've made over time.

Jonathan (22:27): No, that, to me, that that's a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept to me. I mean, when you first were saying it, I was thinking that, okay, maybe they're using that to encompass both the, the, the, the, definitely the creation of the strategy or the selection of the strategy and the execution of it over time. But then you went farther and it was more like how you summarize it, which is that you can only see what your strategy was in retrospect, which is like the laziest possible approach. I could imagine. It's like, why not? I mean, like, why even talk about it then? Like, just do whatever you want whenever you want. Like, how would you align an organization around that? I mean, it's kind of like, that's kind of like saying let's just assume that they, they believe that there's such a thing as objective and that, and, and even let's go a step further.

Jonathan (23:17): This is probably unlikely in the absence of a strategy or preset strategy. Let's just say that the entire organization is aligned on the objective. Highly unlikely. If you don't, if you're operating in a definition of strategy, like you just described, but let's just say everybody is aligned on the objective. That would mean that everyone would be using different, decide on their own strategy. Everyone would have their individual strategy for achieving that objective. And if you don't have the same strategy, then the tactics that people are using are going to be stepping on each other's toes. They're gonna be pulling every, you know, one inch in every direction. There'll be no alignment whatsoever. Even if you have the same objective to be like, let's pull up the star Wars idea again. Okay. Objective, blow up the death star. Everybody do whatever you want. It's like, doesn't make any sense. So I think categorically reject that definition.

Blair (24:14): I like how provocative it is. I like how it forced me to think about things. I like your retort to it. It reminds me of a couple of other provocative lions and I forget, was it Eisenhower? One of the U S presidents said and I'm paraphrasing plans are useless. Planning is priceless.

Jonathan (24:35): Yeah. That's, that's good. But it doesn't mean there's no strategy. Yeah.

Blair (24:40): It, another one of the strategies, models and a model is a view of a view of the world, how the world works or even not the greater world, but like there's a model for how we teach sales, training a model for how it works. So the line is all models are wrong. Some are useful. Yeah. So I think in the spirit of those two statements I think you can apply that spirit to Andrew's definition of strategy, which brings us to a related topic of what is strategic planning.

Jonathan (25:18): Okay. Yeah. So let's slow down a little bit, cause there's some good stuff in there. So talk about how much time do we have. I'm not sure, but a while. So the Eisenhower quote that a plan is useless planning is priceless. The plan is what happens after you pick a strategy plan is the tactics. So that should change. And that's why it's like, you know, it, it is useless like on contact with the enemy of the plan is just not gonna work. Like, you know, I like my Mike Tyson's quote, everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the face. Yeah. True. Absolutely true. But that doesn't mean that there's no strategy. You just have to adjust your tactics to the reality of the situation. But without a strategy, you won't know what tactics to pick, which, which gets to like a question I have written down. Maybe we could hold off or do it now, but why, why is a strategy important? Like who cares? Why not? Why not have no strategy? And I think the answer is you tell me what you think. I think the answer is it's what allows us to, to distinguish an opportunity from a distraction.

Blair (26:23): Oh yeah. That's a great definition. Great answer to that question. It's a really important question. I was hoping we were, we would get to it, but I haven't, I haven't thought about it too deeply. Look, why do we even do a strategy? It seems well, it's obvious you need to do a strategy. Well, why

Jonathan (26:40): Why? Because, because everyone has limited time and money. So if you could do everything then yeah. Eventually, you know, infinite monkeys are gonna, you know, type up the works of Shakespeare, but you don't. So you've got an, especially in a competitive situation, a zero sum situation where someone's going to win and someone's going to lose. You don't have a lot of time. You probably don't have a lot of money or other resources. So you have to F you have to decide what actions to take that are going to be the most effective. And if you don't have a strategy, you can't tell them apart. So you literally don't know what to do and everything. And in a, in a less high stakes situation where you've got, you know, I worked with a lot of solo preneur developer types, that everything seems like an opportunity, like a, you know, a lead comes through and it's like, should I take it? Should I not take it? And it's like, well, it depends. What's your objective. And what's the strategy you're using to get there. I can't answer that question until I know what your objective and strategy are. And if you, if you don't have a strategy every time somebody says, we'd like you to speak at our conference, you say yes, until you're until your time is completely spoken for Susan.

Blair (27:47): Perfect. Because you, we were having this conversation on Twitter and you said, come on my podcast and talk about this. And I said, I'm being ruthless about these. So I'm not going to do it this year. We can do it next year. And this is next year. And then I'm still trying to be almost as ruthless, but soar. This is a Monday or Monday morning staff meeting is at eight 30. By the time I arrived at that staff meeting, I had already had three meetings at seven, seven 30 and eight on opportunities to speak somewhere. And, and then in the staff meeting on the issues list, it's like, okay, I've had these three conversations. I have another one tomorrow morning. Like help me. What, how do we decide? Which of these are worth like I'm supposed to be doing? You know, we have our, I wouldn't call it a strategy for the year, but we have the, our objective for the year. I know what I need to get done this year. Here it is. It's February. I know. And these things are opportunities in a way, but the fundamental question are, is, are they distracting us from the objective and the strategy or the answers are not there, there are benefits. It's absolutely. So I love, can you say that again? It helps us to distinguish between an opportunity and a distraction. Yeah.

Jonathan (29:09): That's what, that's, what a strategy is for two, two distinct it's like litmus test, does this align with strategy or not? And the strategy is automatically gonna, you know, the idea of the strategies to automatically lead to the, not automatically the idea is that it's your bet on the most effective way to achieve the outcome, given your constraints. So, so the outcomes baked into the strategy, you know, it needs to exist first. You need to know what your annual goals are or whatever. And then, okay, what's the strategy for doing that and that you, the litmus test for the billion decisions you're going to make between now and December 31st about how to spend your time and money. And without that strategy, you'll spend all your time and your money, like every opportunity that every, every thing that comes through will look like an opportunity. And you'll just, you'll just spend all of your resources on it. Cause you won't know what to say no to.

Blair (30:01): Yeah. And that saying no is so vital, right?

Jonathan (30:06): Yeah. Yeah. And which leads to all the like Steve jobs quotes, like, you know, good design is saying no to a thousand things or, you know yeah.

Blair (30:13): Warren buffet, the difference between successful people and really successful people is really successful. People say no to almost everything

Jonathan (30:25): [Inaudible] at one time. So at a I don't know where I saw this, but I think Charlie Rose was interviewing buffet and buffet pulled it in and he asked buffet to like, you know, could you show me the calendar, your, your pocket calendar that you showed me before, the, the interview. And he just, just like empty. It was completely empty. And I was like, that's my goal. When I saw that, I was like, yup, that's what I want. Empty calendar.

Blair (30:51): So when you're starting out and you have an empty calendar, your goal is

Jonathan (30:55): Right. Right, right. Yeah. But so that's, I mean, I don't know if you're a Derek Sivers fan, but he just put up, released a book called heck yes or no, or hell yeah. Or no. And it's, it's about that. There's a F there's a stage at the beginning. He's a, he has a music background, music, performance background as do I. And there's a stage where you hustle and you take every, you say yes to everything. And then that works. Cause you're just clueless and you're young and you, you can live on pizza and couches and just sleep on the couch, eat the pizza, not the other way around. And when the, the time comes that it, or like when you get somewhere and things, you're getting inbound, essentially you're getting inbound leads. Instead of you doing all outbound, you're starting to get inbound leads and you're buried.

Jonathan (31:42): Then it's time to start thinking like, okay, I'm only going to say yes to the things that are a hell. Yeah. And I'm going to say no to everything else. And it's sort of a lazy way to I'm lazy is the wrong word. It's sort of like a, it's an easy way. It's a, it's like a simple to understand way, but he's like, he's like has not regrets, but he I've heard him say on podcast many times that people misunderstood that they started using the hell. Yeah. Or no thing before they were actually there, you know, use it at the beginning. Like, like they're, they're the, pre-Madonna, they're the prize. And everyone's like, okay, screw you, you know, fine. But if you, once you're in demand, then, then you know, it's like, okay, to maybe clear your calendar a little bit. But until that time, I think you'll know when you get, you know, when you get there, it's like, you know, conferences are, are emailing you, Hey, could you come speak at our conference then at a certain, you know, like, well, how do I decide if I should say yes or not?

Blair (32:40): Here's a, here's a bit, it's more than a line, but it's, most of it comes from Dan Sullivan, founder of strategic coach. And some of it comes from somewhere else. It might be Derek Sivers, but I forget where I cobbled it together from two different sources. There are two levels of success in business. The first level you get there through what you're talking about, hard work and saying yes to everything. So those are the two tools that you use to get to the first level of success. Hard work, you work your off and you say yes to everything that comes your way. And I say that to my kids. It's like at your age, just say yes to everything, work your off. Outwork. People say yes to everything, but the second level of success, there are different tools. And you have to down the first tools and the longer you've been at the first level of success, the harder it is to put those tools down.

Blair (33:30): So you have to put down effort and staying yes to everything, and you have to replace them with risk and saying no to everything, almost everything, Warren Buffett's quote. So right. At some point, your, your income, you want it to be detached from effort. And so you want to look for well, fundamentally it's it's risk. It's like, where do we take some? And there are different types of risks, but Peter Drucker said in business, all profit is derived from risk. And then the idea of saying no to everything, that's the Derek Sivers point of like, hell yeah. Or no.

Jonathan (34:06): Yeah. Yep. Yeah. And, and Steve jobs about good design. It's like, you have to say no to a million things. So I w what about risk? Wasn't the, probably isn't the word I would have chosen there. I would have chosen leverage, but I suppose creating leverage is a risk because it it's it's an investment in your future and it might not work, but it also reminds me of the, the main subject here, which is strategy. A lot of people when I'm working with coaching students, and they'll say like, well, what should my strategy, like were considering a couple of different strategies let's say to achieve this objective there, you know, one to three year business goals or whatever, whatever they want to do, whatever impact they want to have. And, you know, there's different strategies, different ways to approach it. And they'll say, well, which one should I do?

Jonathan (34:50): Like, what they're really asking is which one's definitely gonna work. And that's what they want to know now. They're like, well, any of them could work in any of them could not work. You just, at certain point, it's a leap of faith. It might not work if it's definitely gonna work. First of all, that doesn't exist. Or if it does exist, that's not strategy. Or the objective is too easily achievable for it to be interesting. So I suppose if there's something there's something that happens with a strategy that, that I think a lot of almost like prevents it from sinking in to someone's mind. Like they could be listening to this and being like, I'm not getting it. I'm not getting, I'm not getting it. And sometimes the resistance to that absorption is that they can't imagine a Bulletproof it's like, cause that doesn't exist. Like if your objective is, especially if it's a competitive, if especially if it's like a zero sum competitive, we win, you lose type of situation. There's not a guaranteed way. It's a re it's the risk that you're talking about. It's like, you need to take this risk. You bet that this is the right strategy. And maybe it won't work. You know? So I don't know if that, I'm not sure how those things tie in, but it feels,

Blair (36:03): Yeah. Well, when you're talking about business owners and you, you get into these conversations, you realize some people have started their own business and there would be better off as employees. They don't have the appetite for risk. So you can take what I said, which is risk and saying, no, you can substitute the word. I think you can subject to the word innovation for risk. And to me, I haven't, I've thought about this just not super deeply, but to me, innovation is this combination of creativity. So the ability to see an opportunity, you can see something and some people just suffer from lack of good ideas, not very many, but some do. So I see the opportunity and then risk. I'm willing to leap. And those two things combined to me, that's a pretty good those are the ingredients of innovation. So I think you can think about it that way, but there is no innovation without risk and there is no innovation without waste.

Blair (37:00): Exactly. So this idea that somebody is looking for a Bulletproof strategy, it's that they want a guarantee. I remember back to Dan Sullivan, founder of strategic coach. I was in that coaching program for three years and we were doing so once a quarter, you meet with 40 entrepreneurs for a day. You're discussing all these things and they have frameworks. And one day we were doing an exercise around risk. And I had this realization that, Oh, as an entrepreneur, I had the sense, I was still kind of early. I felt myself as early in my entrepreneurial journey. And I had the sense that, okay, I'm taking a bunch of risks now, but at some point the risk goes away. Then I had this realization that no, I'm all in all the time. Right. For the rest of my life. Yeah. And I was immediately horrified like, okay, at what point do you lie down?

Blair (37:55): And when do we get to rest on my laurels? When you pick the fruits of your labor? Not that you don't when you're yeah. When do you get to rest on your lawyer, lawyer, laurels, and just have the money flowing without you like constantly living three to five years in the future and making decisions about where out there. And I realized I two realizations back to back. And the first one I was horrified, I realized never, you never get to do this as an entrepreneur. And that lasted, I brought that up and we talked about it and that lasted about two or three minutes. And I realized the second realization was I would have it no other way. Right.

Jonathan (38:33): Exactly. That's how I get it. If

Blair (38:36): You're, if you don't have that appetite for risk, if you're not willing to be all in, in that way where your fate is in your own control, get a job.

Jonathan (38:45): Yeah. Right. I mean your, your post no exit, I think it's called. Yeah. Yeah. That I had a F I mean, this is off topic, but I had when I read that I was like cheering. I'm like, yeah, exactly. I think your line was like, I'm gonna die with my boots on. And I was like, yeah, why would I retire my life rules?

Blair (39:05): Like never retire.

Jonathan (39:06): No, never not gonna, not gonna do it. The, and, and I dunno, I suppose it's off topic. I would love, I would love to have a long chat about that. But that sort of like the idea of just the whole notion of, you know, working until I'm 60 or whatever, and then retiring to a hammock. Like, I don't know. I like what I do. It's I dunno. I just dig it. Like, why would I want to stop?

Blair (39:34): We're not wearing out our bodies here at Jonathan typists.

Jonathan (39:38): Yeah. I just write all the time. I love it. So I did have one, one counter-argument to that. I spoke with a guy named John Warrillow. He's been on the podcast a few

Blair (39:47): Times. I'm a big fan of his books. Yeah. Yeah.

Jonathan (39:50): And so he, he convinced me he injected a thought into my head that I had never had before. And he was like, cause, cause we were on the, he was on the podcast and I was, the interview was about built a cell and creating products and services and, and that sort of thing. And he was like, he was like, the things he's all about like selling the best, valuing the business, creating more value in the business and then selling it and, you know, keep on doing that. And I was like, well, that's not, I'm never going to do that. But everything that you're describing increase, like anything that would increase the value for a buyer is going to increase the value for the owners. So it's still valid advice. And then he was like, well, you know, you could get, he was like two things could happen.

Jonathan (40:33): That would change your mind about that. And I was like, Oh yeah. What health and something even bigger, like you want to do something even bigger. Yeah. So he was like, so if you, if something like that happened and that could happen, like I could see that happening where it's not that I would stop working, but I might want to pivot into something that's a higher level or something like that. Cause like at that point, are you just going to let your old business die? Would you rather sell it? And I was like, well, I would, I wouldn't want it to die. Which would mean someone would have to buy it. So it was like, Oh, okay. That broaden my,

Blair (41:05): And I'll add two more considerations. So I have a friend who founded a consulting firm and he brought along the next gen. He was, he saw it as his responsibility as CEO should to bring on the next generation of kind of leadership. And he mentored these young people. And at some point they came to him and said, we want to buy the firm. And he realized he had an obligation to sell it to them. And I, I'm not sure that I would have felt the obligation, but I understood his of obligation. And so he sold it to them and went to do something else. So I can see that. And I can also see, like in my own business, I think of what we're trying to accomplish at win without pitching, which is to change the way creative services are bought and sold the world over.

Blair (41:49): I can see at some point some somebody coming to me and saying, Blair, sell me the business. Let us bring to you the scale that you don't currently have. But you can continue to be involved doing the things that you love to do. I don't need to run a training company. So if at some point in the future, somebody came to me and said, no, look, we can help you with the, with the objective, like a bigger impact around the world. And we can take away from you all the things that there may be some days, maybe some days you don't and you can just continue to create content like Seth Goden just did this with a Kimbo. And if you listen to his podcast, I had to back it up and listen to it over again. And I thought, that's the smoothest. I've never heard anybody ever deliver the fact that they had just sold the company and where you almost didn't hear it.

Blair (42:45): And clearly he is continuing to develop curriculum and content. He's just not running a training organization. So to me, I can see that too. So while it's a great mission and I never sell never retire, absolutely never retiring. Yeah. But even Michael Gerber and the E-Myth E-Myth he says, build and run your business. Like you're going to franchise it, even though you never will. What he means by that is put all the systems and processes in place. Yeah. And I think for any product ties service business, it makes sense that you build it for potential future sale. But my audience of creative and marketing firms, 90 greater than 95% of them are customized services, businesses that don't easily sell. In fact, my friend and podcast, co-host David C. Baker says the odds of selling a firm like that are one in 400. Yeah. Yeah. So there's a lot of nuance there, but I appreciate that post

Jonathan (43:49): Well, to bring it back to the strategy subject is all of the, we're talking about a lot of decisions and like worldviews and missions and, and our vision for whatever, like the impact that we want to have as all of those, like a million little decisions and tactics and possibilities and all of those things like it's, it gets overwhelming in absence of a strategy. If you have a strategy and you've got the discipline to stick to it, then a lot of these things sort of a lot of like like a majority of them probably will just evaporate. Cause they'll just be like, Oh, that's, that's a distraction. Those are just distractions. And, and people are good at filtering out distractions. We're constantly bombarded with the problem is when some of them don't seem like distractions, but as soon as you know, that this stuff is a distraction, you can shut it out pretty easily.

Jonathan (44:38): But I wanted to loop back to something you mentioned earlier, which was the term strategic planning and, and point people to a resource it's a book called good strategy, bad strategy by Richard Rumelt, which is largely the source of what I use as a definition of strategy. It's a little bit bastardized, but you know, the thing about surprise, I think that comes from him and, and it's, I think it's really, really good, but strategic planning is like, I mean, I think Ellen white says strategic planning is an oxymoron. You know, it's like it's yes. Plans will come out of a strategy, but, but acting like acting like your strategy is a plan is, is what room out would call bad strategy? That's bad strategy. That's like,

Blair (45:26): Well, I love that. I can, if I hear those two words together, I just rolled my eyes. My reaction is you don't know what you're talking about. And I, and that's, that's just like a guttural reaction. That is, that is not a highly thought through thing, but I love what you just said. You know, how about you just come up with a strategy that you can articulate in a sentence, and then from that we can do some planning and let's keep these two things separate from each other. Right,

Jonathan (45:58): Right. Yeah. There's another thing that he talks about. I think it's, I think it's the same book, but another kind of bad strategy is, is is one that has no risk to bring, to bring up risk again. So like, like our strategy is going to be to have the world's best customer service. It's like, well,

Blair (46:16): That's like, that's a dream or goal.

Jonathan (46:19): Yeah. And it's, and it's like, and it's not there's no surprise. It's not risky. Anybody else would probably like, you know, no end of other companies might say the exact same thing. It's not, it's not an application of a strength against a weakness in a surprising way. It's, it's like a duh, you know, like that's, that's like table stakes for running a business,

Blair (46:42): But could you turn that? Like if we took that one as a case study, could we, could we turn that into a strategy or infer a strategy from it? Like

Jonathan (46:51): Maybe, maybe a market, maybe a marketplace that is aggressively anti customer service. Yeah. So if there's, if there's like, you know, like there's a sandwich shop near my house, that is like, well, it's like it's like the staff is like incredibly rude, like comically rude on purpose. And that's like, just part of the shtick. If every restaurant was like that, and then you were like, Oh, okay, we're going to are different. We're going to be the nice ones. So like there there's strategy, it's not a strategy. It's just a stick that they do. But, but we are going to here would be a strategy. We're going to have the worst customer service in the industry. Right. I'm not sure how that would help you, but that would be surprising. And it would certainly if for some reason that allowed you to cut your price by 10 X of what everyone else was charging, that might be interesting. So yeah, I could S I could see that happening. Like maybe there's an industry where customer service is a Bismal and that's like a, a strategic advantage or or maybe you, you flip it and say, we're going to have the worst customer service, or like, we're gonna have the worst. We want to have the worst Yelp reviews on the internet, something like that.

Blair (47:58): What do you back to this word planning, what do you think listeners of this podcast should do with this information of this definition? These definitions of strategies and, yeah.

Jonathan (48:09): I mean, everything starts with an objective. If you don't know what your objective is, you're dead in the water. If you're just like, if your objective is to like, pay the mortgage next month, like think a little bit bigger picture in that, have an objective, like, what's your mission or vision or purpose or impact that you're trying to make your big idea come up with something that is usually it's most helpful if it's other focused and not if it's outward, focused, not inward focused like your bank account numbers or something like that. It's not very, it goes like that. Aren't very instructive. It doesn't, it's like, Oh, you want to have a million dollars. But like, it doesn't really tell me anything. It rules out a lot of businesses, but it doesn't tell me it doesn't give me any direction as someone who is trying to coach you.

Jonathan (48:48): So I would say, come up with, if you can, some sort of impact goal that is outwardly focused, focused, like an impact that you want to make let's. And if, if you have an easy answer to that, consider yourself lucky because most people don't. But if you could come up with some kind of objective and then S and then make a list of five, three to five possible, mutually exclusive strategies that are one sentence long that are all different high-level approaches to potentially achieving that objective and notice just, and then just like try on each of the different strategies. Like it's a suit. So just try on this strategy, what would the tactics be? If that was going to be my strategy, what are my blind spots? What would I have to get help with? What team members would I need to bring in and then try on the next strategy? What would that look like? What would that implementation look like? What would the action plan be for this strategy? Then go through it with all three to five of these different potential strategies. And I think it'll, it'll internalize how different tactics and strategy are and how they go hand in hand and how the having one strategy versus another strategy gives you this litmus test for, for distinguishing real opportunities from distractions.

Blair (50:10): I know we've been at this almost an hour. No, we still haven't talked about too much about positioning versus strategy add, and maybe this is the topic of a future discussion. Where does the strategy and the business model begin? And I think of Alex Osterwalder's work, business model, canvas what's the relationship between strategy and the business model? That

Jonathan (50:40): Is a great question. I personally, I spend most of my time thinking about a specific business model, so I don't have a lot of, I don't have a lot of broad experience with like, like wide ranging types of businesses. Almost everybody I work with is it's like an expertise based business. It's usually one person or a small firm. So I, I would defer any, any information you have on that would be super interesting to me cause I, I kind of solved that problem by only working with one kind of business model. And I don't like the scaling with employees or like a contingency type model or marketplace models. I don't mess with any of that stuff.

Blair (51:21): Yeah. And it's interesting when you, I looked into this recently in preparation of a podcast that David Baker and I did, and I'm not even sure if we'd got into it, but as part of the research there, isn't just like strategy there. Isn't kind of a universal agreed upon definition of what a business model is, but these things positioning how you position your brand. So Trenton Reese's book from, I think it was 81 positioning the battle for your mind. How do you, how do you place your brand in the mind of your customer relative to your competitors? That's positioning? So to me, positioning is when it comes to positioning a professional firm that is fundamental business strategy. It's the expression of like, what do we want them to think basically about us relative to these others? And then okay, what are the things that we need to do for us to be thought of that way? So that's tied to positioning, positioning, and strategy are related as, as business model as is our tactics and planning. Totally.

Jonathan (52:29): Yeah. I agree. I think, I think positioning is always strategic, but I don't think a strategy is always positioning.

Blair (52:37): Agreed. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Well, that's some pretty good progress

Jonathan (52:46): Now, now, now I'm like, I need to research business models, more

Blair (52:50): Antics episode. Exactly.

Jonathan (52:54): Is there anything else we should tackle before we wrap up? I know you've sounds like you've already had a busy day, so you're probably looking forward to lunch or something like that.

Blair (53:02): Well, I have to go get in that cold, like, and I'm swimming in the ice cold water,

Jonathan (53:09): Better, better you than me and my friend.

Blair (53:11): Right? Well, no, I think this is I suspect that the conversation will continue on Twitter and then maybe we'll reconvene again, either here or in some other forum to share what we've both kind of learned since today on the key subject of strategy and the related ones. I'll just throw out one last idea, but just one last thought read a book that has strategy and the title and my experience is the chances less than 50% that the author will offer an a definition of strategy, probably training, master strategy, and the fat smoker read that multiple times does not define strategy. There are lots of books on strategy that don't define it. Yeah. I believe that's true. It's something that as we, we it's like pornography, we know it when we see it.

Jonathan (54:10): Yeah. It feels like there's a lot of snake oil out there to be honest, roommates is by far the best book I've ever read on it. It's okay.

Blair (54:17): Familiar with it. I've heard it over the years. I've never read it. So when I get back to when my appetite for reading both strategy returns will be at the top of my pile.

Jonathan (54:27): Yeah. Great. Well, thanks so much for joining me and the listeners today. Where should people go to find out more about all things Blair

Blair (54:36): Win without and I'm at Blair ends on the usual business, social media, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now clubhouse, I guess

Jonathan (54:46): I just signed up.

Blair (54:48): See, by the time this goes to air, clubhouse will be

Jonathan (54:51): Probably gone. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I, so talk about opportunity, distraction. So many people were like, you got to get on this, you got to get on this Blair and Chris are on it. You got to get on it. I was like, Oh, I'll go squat on my username, but I don't know. Anyway, we'll see. Maybe it'll be the next YouTube. I do. Like I do like audio as a format. So

Blair (55:13): While you have the voice for audio,

Jonathan (55:15): I've got a face for it. I didn't say that. All right. Well, let's see folks, I guess that'll be it for this time. Maybe we can have Blair back again in the future. Let us know what you think is your favorite definition of strategy on Twitter. So Blair already shared his mine is at Jonathan Stark, of course. And we'll just see you next time. That's it for this time. I'm Jonathan Stark and this is ditching hourly. Bye.


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