Strategy and tactics

While I was writing Secret Recipes the other day, I noticed I wrote another post a while back on a similar topic and yet with an apparently contrasting message. I now want to try to make better sense of my thoughts around doing.

Secret Recipes is about approaching information in a critical way. I say that 99.9% of the people seeking information online (how-to and step-by-step guides, mainly) will not do anything about it, and that the remaining 0.1%, those who plan to actually implement the recommendations, should factor in the role of context and luck. That is to say, they should not take what they read as immediately applicable to their case.

We know what to do is about the inability to act on what we know. Our hubris often makes us not follow common knowledge because we think we are different, our situation demands it, our idea is better than the millions that have come before it. And this makes us fail even when there’s a pretty consistent agreement out there about how we should have acted.

Secret Recipes suggests to be critical with information, We know what to do seems to suggest the opposite, that is to say to follow the knowledge we gather.

Both are true, and it very much depends if we are talking about strategy or tactics.

We know what to do is about strategy. It’s about the knowledge that multiple generations have gathered around how certain things are done. It’s about rules, frameworks that people have been following before and that have worked. And so other people also followed them, and again they worked.

Of course, sometimes the rules need to be broken. Yet, rather than believing this is the time, with us, here and now, we usually end up much better off if we stick to them. For example, if we start doing marketing by investigating the market and the customer, no matter if our product is so unique everybody will go nuts about it. Or if we are pitching to Guy Kawasaki with a presentation that follows his 10/20/30 rule, no matter how important it is everything we were planning to say.

Secret Recipes, on the other hand, is about tactics. That’s what most of the content nowadays is about, because tactics are usually more nuanced and dependent on the situation. For this reason I believe that being critical is necessary, and the more we act on such tactics anchoring them to the general framework (the strategy), the better.

Bending the rules

We are all subject to the pitfalls of “this time will be different”.

Sometimes ago, I was listening to a podcast featuring Guy Kawasaki. Guy promotes a pretty interesting and well known framework for presentations – the 10/20/30 rule. That is to say 10 slides, in 20 minutes, with text on the slides set at a minimum of 30 points.

Despite people knowing about his “rule”, he was amazed by the fact they were still pitching ideas to him with presentations that did not respect any of those precepts. When the host asked why he thought that happened, he said that people always tend to think that the rule does not apply to them: “Sure, I know about the rule, but that does not apply to me. My idea is the most interesting, what I have to say is incredibly powerful, my insights are superb. This time will be different, I promise.”

It turns out, it almost never is.

A slightly different version of the pitfall is “this time alone”.

Working with start-ups, I have often heard the mantra: “this is not who we are, we’ll do it this time alone, and when things will start getting traction, we’ll finally be able to act the way we really, deeply, sincerely are”. Of course, if you are eventually lucky enough to get some traction, you’ll have forgotten and most likely shit on how you really, deeply, sincerely are. No reason to go about searching for excuses.

Some rules are set for you, some you get to set.

I am not promoting absolute obedience and compliance, yet we should be aware of these traps and be completely honest about a fact. When we start bending the rules, chances are we are starting to bend ourselves as well. We ought to make sure we are doing that in a direction we’ll feel confident and proud about the morning after.

Empower people

Guy Kawasaki says that his elevator pitch, the way he introduces his work to others, is “empower people”.

That is a powerful and generous purpose. And the best thing about it, is that it does not end with winners and losers. You can always empower more, reach out to extra people who needs empowerment, spread your empowering word wider and farther, and inspire others to empower as well.

Eventually, you will not be left with less, and the world will be left with more. Empowering people is the ideal win win. We should do it more often.