Applied Strategy


Applied Strategy

Nov 08, 2007By Voltaire Santos Miran

In my previous communiqu, I claimed that strategy is a process that combines destination and compass, a tool set that leads to big accomplishments… raising a billion dollars, increasing admissions yield, retiring on a tropical island.

So that answers the ‘What is it?’ part of strategy. The ‘Why’ is sort of self evident imho, so let’s move right along to ‘How’ strategy propels you toward the excellence that you envision.

Specifically, how do you apply strategy to the challenges you face? The answer, in it’s most succinct incarnation, involves three steps.

1. Envision an ideal outcome,
2. Identify the steps between that place to your current position,
3. Follow those steps from your current position to your ideal outcome.

Simple, right? Okay, you’re skeptical. I understand. Let’s take an example. In fact, let’s take a real example drawn straight from one of our readers.

In response to my first post on strategy, Susan Evans from the College of William & Mary, commented that while crafting a talk on her school’s web redesign, the notion of destination and compass provided a structure that helped focus her creative energies on her end goal. So let’s think about what Susan’s approach, and fit that into the three steps above.

1. Envision an ideal outcome:

Create an outstanding website for William and Mary.

2. Identify the steps between that place to your current position:

Focus on a set of activities that will lead to an award-winning site, starting with a great vision statement to the key decision makers, ending with a great website.

3. Follow those steps from your current position to your ideal outcome:

Create that vision statement, present that to the (suitably impressed) decision makers, build the requisite buy-in and move on to the next step.

Little more clear, and credible? If not, bear with me, more great examples to come. But first, I’d like to take a little detour.

In the example from Susan above, we see not only strategy and focus, but also a great example of how micro effort is intimately connected to macro outcome. What does this mean, and why is it important? It means that the effort you spend today, however trivial, is helping to determine your eventual outcome. More concretely, Susan’s presentation builds internal awareness of the rewards one reaps from outstanding online communications. That leads to community support for a terrific web presence. Greater community awareness of W&M’s strengths and needs, leads to a stronger position in the public sphere, and this then opens up opportunities for W&M to talk about their big goals (think, successful fundraising campaigns, increasing admissions yield, and a host of other items). The point of bringing up the micro and the macro is the following: Small, focused efforts are the bricks that lead to grand structures.

Speaking of grand structures, let’s take a look at grand strategy MIT style. Soon, MIT will launch the public phase of their Campaign for Students. While this campaign is seeking to raise money for students in order to fund better facilities and create more scholarships, it also part of a much larger goal. Consistently attracting great students means consistently placing some of the greatest minds in the same great school, to work on things like solutions to the world’s energy needs and cures for cancer. So again, one goal is a stepping stone to the achievement of the next. In MIT’s case, great students lead to great research, and ultimately solutions for the world’s greatest challenges. Can they do it? Well, MIT’s stock in trade is inventing technologies that change the world, so I’m not betting against them. And interestingly neither are the world’s biggest philanthropists. Meaning, MIT may be launching a Campaign for Students on the near horizon, but you can expect to see a multi-billion dollar campaign not to far behind that one. Those funds will then be used to keep education affordable (thereby attracting talent regardless of income), fund world-class cancer research centers, and much more.

With both Susan and MIT, you see some really terrific examples of applied strategy, each of which drive home the point the following point: Focused efforts help build bigger outcomes, and as those outcomes gain their own momentum, they provide a tail-wind that propels you toward some truly outstanding destinations.

So what are the two big take-aways?

First: Outcome, plan, and implementation are intimately related to success. Remove one, and the rest are useless.
Second: Focus is power (and it’s ugly corollary, distraction is deadly). Focus on the seemingly small steps, and the larger outcome constructs itself.

So we’ve touched on the question of how to raise a billion dollars. In doing so, I’d argue that we’ve also touched on methodologies for doing things like raising admissions yield. But, I still owe you the one about the retiring on a tropical island. Here’s that story.

A friend of mine is an ER nurse. When she can, she escapes to the beaches of the Caribbean for some R&R. While spending time in the islands, she began exploring the hospital systems. In doing so, she found that there was often need for supplies that are routinely discarded by the major US hospitals. After a little trial and error, she developed a process that allowed US hospitals to donate materials to hospitals in the Caribbean. Along the way, she persuaded the airlines to donate the cargo fees associated with transport, and finally, when some of the wealthier patrons of the hospitals got wind of her efforts, they offered her accommodations in their vacation homes, which were often empty. It’s doubtful that my friend will every be a wealthily woman herself. But she lives a wonderful life, does a world of good, and is tracking to retire on a tropical island due to the kindness of individuals who will support her efforts for a long time to come.

Smarter you work, the luckier you get.

So that wraps up this portion of the applied strategy conversation. Next I’d like to drill down into some specifics, and look at some of the tricks of the trade, integrated efforts, for example, meaning how to amplify the effectiveness of your initiatives by setting things up in a manner that speeds you along your way.

Look forward to hearing your input.

  • Voltaire Santos Miran Chief Executive Officer, Head of Client Experience I've developed and implemented communication strategies in education for more than 20 years now. I think my team at mStoner is the smartest, funniest, and coolest group of colleagues ever, and I can't imagine being anywhere else. Except Barcelona. Or Paris. Or Istanbul. To quote Isak Dinesen, "the cure for everything is salt ... tears, sweat, and the sea."