Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing strategy from a solid foundation 1: start with your underlying assumptions

Posted in macroeconomics, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on July 26, 2014

For most managers and leaders, strategy is essentially entirely goals-driven. It might be couched in terms of the here and now of a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis, but even there, these contextual factors and constraints are usually identified, prioritized and understood in terms of the goals that this strategy would be directed towards. Effective strategy does not and cannot arise as if from a vacuum. Effective strategy is context-driven and it is important to look at and understand what is to be done and how, from a wider contextual perspective than a simple a priori determined, goals-oriented SWOT analysis can provide.

This is the first posting to a series on better understanding that wider strategic context and on more effectively building from it. And the principles that I will delve into here apply to both business and other private sector organization contexts, and to the societally broader contexts of government strategy and policy. And I begin this with the absolute fundamentals: with a discussion of underlying assumptions that strategy planners bring to the table with them and often as unexamined givens. So my goal for this first series installment is:

• To at least try to provoke thought as to what is simply assumed that would shape strategy and its outcomes,
• And to increase awareness of how implicit assumptions: any implicit assumptions, at least when unexamined and unconsidered, can constrain and limit all that follows from them.

And I will add as an organizing thought here that all of my experience has shown me and reinforced for me that when strategy fails, that is usually in significant part because of disconnects and other problems brought in as implicit assumptions. Assumptions, to state that more explicitly:

• Can hold mutual contradictions in them,
• They can limit capacity for scalability even when a business or other organizational approach seems to work on a smaller, prototype or test scale,
• And they can skew priorities and benchmarking evaluation points for even knowing if operational processes are effectively working – and certainly early enough to limit the damage.
• Even the most careful operational execution can fail when the underlying strategy that it seeks to fulfill was formed on the basis of a faulty and misunderstood foundation of assumptions.

Ultimately, my goal for this series is to provide tools and a basic understanding, for stepping outside of at least your more rote, automatic business and marketplace assumptions so you can evaluate and judge them more realistically and objectively. That does not necessarily mean discarding your basic starting mindset; it does mean seeing and knowing what it is and with a goal of strategically and operationally building from it in a more flexible, aware and nuanced manner. And this means setting aside assumptions as axiomatic assumptions when such a review would show them not to apply in your current here and now.

I am going to take this posting’s discussion out of the abstract in my next series installment where I will at least briefly and selectively look into a very real-world example. And for that I pick up on a point that I raised towards the top of this posting where I noted that what I would say here applies to larger societal and governmental strategy and policy, as much as it does to private sector businesses and organizations. For my Part 2 working example, I will briefly and selectively explore and discuss some of the economic and societal ramifications of the all-volunteer army as a means of ongoing national defense. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see Macroeconomics and Business.

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