I was a little annoyed with the chosen focus of a recent article by Mr. Michael G. Jacobides and very annoyed with the terminology chosen in Strategy Tools for a Shifting Landscape (subscription required), a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. While I agree that some companies need to reinvent the way they develop strategy, I’m not sure that strategy should be “defined” by narrative plots, subplots, and characters and definitely convinced that the last thing we want defining corporate strategy is a “playscript”.
Business is, well, business. Not playtime. And while it shouldn’t be duller than necessary, it shouldn’t be all fun and games either. Businesses exist to benefit shareholders. And unless you’re a production house generating content for web, TV, and Movie studios, writing scripts is not going to benefit your shareholders in any way. And while I agree that plots, subplots, and characters might be the best way to describe your strategy to all of the members of your organization, who might otherwise speak different languages (mechanical, programmatic, sales, etc.), a strategy should still be backed up by some research, which is typically expressed in the “maps, graphs, and numbers” the author is telling us to avoid.
And while I also agree that the typical frameworks used by industry analysts (five forces and maps) and blue ocean thinking (value maps and value curves) are better at managing the strategy process than enabling the creative and critical thinking required for success, the last thing we want to do is replace one insufficient framework with another, less sufficient framework. While a story might make a great vision, you can’t execute a story. You can only execute a plan, and that requires more than plots and subplots — it requires processes, steps, and success metrics, captured in traditional maps, graphs, and number formats. So while anything that encourages creativity is great, if all we do is focus on the production of play scripts (instead of including them as another tool in our creativity toolbox to get people brainstorming), our strategies will never progress beyond the imaginative vision of a kindergartener.