Saturday, March 17, 2012

Savvy strategy @twitter tempo.

Part 01: A whole new dance at twitter tempo
Once a person or organization has a strong vision for the future and a solid strategy for achieving it, making it a reality is solely a matter of proper execution. At least that's the traditional wisdom. It's empowering in an Ayn Rand-ish way, but as realistic nowadays as Atlas Shrugged. Here are a couple of this maxim's more blatant flaws:

The future is only clear after it's happened.
Rarely can you say "I knew that would happen" with an entirely straight face. Maybe when your second-grader is hanging precariously by one leg on a monkey bar. Then you can be pretty sure that you'll be dealing with a trip to the emergency room soon. But to say that in five years your company will be the leader in X market with a $X billion valuation because it's got the right vision? Maybe in the early days of P&G that was a fairly likely scenario, but just ask P&G if that's the case today.

A solid strategy doesn't work in a fluid world. 
You need brilliant strategy now. Then a variation on theme tomorrow. And then a complete do-over the next day. Before twitter was twitter, it was a podcast company. But Apple took over that market with iTunes, so it was back to the notepad for Jack Dorsey and team. Staying the course is sometimes like continuing to play a Bach piece while everyone else has switched to Ornette Coleman improv.

When you're on twitter time, strategy and execution sleep in the same bed.
My primary client is a global telecom/technology company that's had its share of successes. Used to be that  this organization took years to create and mold the idea, and even more years to turn it into reality. Potential consequences were thoroughly analyzed, contingencies planned for, minutiae tackled and re-tackled. Then there was the massive implementation--getting the manufacturing and supply chain dialed in, creating a global support system, implementing large-scale go-to-market support, whatever.

This approach used to work great for them. But then it didn't. The world hit the fast-forward button, and my client's drawn-out processes led to thoroughly dialed-in innovations--monumental works, certainly, but whose time had come and long gone. And now, that approach would work almost never. As a result, my client's leadership has altered its processes so that potentially viable ideas become actual offerings much more quickly. If the offerings don't gather traction pronto, they're dropped. With lessons learned, the process starts over.

This ready-fire-aim-until-you-hit-the-damn-thing approach has its drawbacks. Half-cocked ideas only partially executed rarely make it anywhere. But this is modern-day combat, not gentlemanly sport shooting, so you've got to fire while scrambling.

Part 02: How does one strategize at the speed of twitter?
So what's a strategist to do? Below are a few thoughts, but I'm still in the exploratory phase. Any and all contributions would be much appreciated.

Think like Charlie Parker.
In jazz, musicians are always reacting and responding to the moment.  They listen deeply and contribute their voice accordingly, dynamically, interestingly. Sometimes it doesn't work, but sometimes it's magical. It's a real-time art. But you still think ahead. It's been said that while Charlie Parker was soloing, he was constantly thinking about notes he'd be playing a few short measures down the road. We strategists need to be comfortable with a few short measures.

Think like Mitt Romney. 
The fact that he flip-flops might not be a great selling point for voters. They want consistency. But flip-flopping on a dime can be a valuable skill for strategists. The target is moving, so we should be too. This requires flexibility in your thinking, as well as an ability to let go of what you consider effective, spot-on, right. An argument you rightfully won today might be one that you should rightfully lose next week. So go ahead, flip-flop.

Think like Stephen Wolfram.
Good luck with this one. Mr. Wolfram got his PhD in physics from Caltech when he was twenty years old. My colleague Chris Mismash recently heard Mr. Wolfram speak at SXSW. He said that, in this place where top-name intellects were everywhere, Mr. Wolfram was on a "whole other level." And from what I've read about him, it's true. Siri, which Eric Schmidt sees as the biggest threat to Google, is based on the Wolfram|Alpha knowledge engine.

Besides brilliance, another strategy lesson one can learn Mr. Wolfram is big thinking outside of trends--and then discovering ways to to have your incredible ideas intersect with the world and change it. If this is where you're at, you shouldn't be wasting your time reading this post. You should be over at Mr. Wolfram's blog.

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