Posts Tagged ‘choice’

Strategy Is Not A Plan

April 13, 2014


An Italian historian, diplomat, philosopher and author, Niccolo Machiavelli was influential  during the Renaissance. He is considered the founder of modern political science and well known for The Prince, a book about unscrupulous politicians. Machiavellianism is most often associated with strategies founded on deceit and psychological manipulation. While these strategies offer many politicos inspiration, other leaders offer more positive, ethical examples.

Strategy Generates Power

Regretfully, because of overuse and ubiquitous application, the word “strategy” has lost meaning. Lawrence Freedman’s new book, Strategy: A History, suggests strategy employs whatever resources are available to achieve the best outcome in situations that are both dynamic and contested. He suggests strategy generates power. Perhaps we too often mistake strategy as a simple way to get to a clear and final result.

Instead, Freedman counsels that strategy is simply a thoughtful means to get from one stage to another. Each new stage has its own challenges, risks, assets and potential. Strategy needs to be devised, and revised as circumstances evolve. Strategy is not synonymous with a plan. Plans support forward movement and actions, but they may or may not be strategic. Even so, high-quality implementation of a strategic plan – one built on choice points that considered alternatives – can be a significant challenge.

Strategy Development

Certainly both strategic processes and strategic thinking are essential in managing and leading. Don Knauss, CEO, Clorox Company says he learned strategy development from the Marine Corps. The acronym SMEAC provides a framework: situation, mission, execution, administration and communication. These five factors  require attention and deliberation.

As a leader, trust-building is an intentional strategy in the culture he promotes. Knauss said in a recent interview that “the less you use the power you’ve been given, the more authority people will give you…It starts with integrity…You get things done much more quickly when people trust you.”

Evidence, Facts & Results

Personal lives, government, organizations and programs all need strategy. Whether you are losing weight, staying married, providing healthcare, managing a “conflict” in a foreign country or improving education – your chances at success increase if there’s a strategy. Better still if it’s evidence- and fact-based.

Winston Churchill’s insight is relevant, too. He said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

Slaying Goliath

March 2, 2014


David, a shepherd boy, killed Goliath with a stone slung at his exposed forehead. He won the battle against all expectations. His victory relied on great strategy and skills.

David was a slinger. His weapon was a leather pouch attached on two sides by a long length of rope. Slingers were part of ancient armies. These warriors used a rock or lead ball hurled by a sling at their enemies. Slinging required extraordinary skills honed by extensive practice.

With considerable courage, using the advantages of speed and maneuverability, David ran directly at Goliath in his attack. David hit the one point of the giant’s vulnerability, knocked him unconscious, then killed Goliath by his own sword.

The outcome of this battle challenges common assumptions about power. We assume, in error, that big and strong always wins. But, it is possible for speed and surprise coupled with passionate intent to prevail. David’s example provides a two-step recipe: the right strategies with capable execution.

  • What assumptions do we hold about the Goliath we face this week?
  • What studied attention have we given to strategy development?
  • Can we skillfully implement  optimal choices?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

Buses, Green Jackets, and Costs

April 29, 2012

Rosa Parks

Through electronic trading, international markets move in nano-seconds. Because of cyber-space, an email sails across the globe in no more than few minutes – often faster. Speed adds value. But social change – inside organizations and communities – requires weeks, months, sometimes years. Often, a slow pace or simply  resistance by powerful interests generates a very high cost.

Too Slow & Public Relations

The relationship between time and cost is connected to change. Public relations is a “foil” that precludes real knowledge and distributes a pre-determined position or message to promote an advantage. It protects image. Experts generally agree when the expense to image or other factor becomes too great, change is likely to occur. Companies use cost to press for fast change. Timely payment on a mortgage, taxes or a credit card – avoids additional fees. Quick and preventive actions relative to your health gets rewarded through lower insurance premiums.

Whose Interest?

Nudge, the book by Thaler and Sunstein, focuses on “choice architecture” and the related behavior science research that guides how we can best gain attention or give a signal for change. In the private sector, getting “ahead” of change, discerning trends, and using them to market advantage is relevant to innovation and success. In any issue involving people, who incurs cost and how much before change happens are  key factors. Plenty of social and political capital is spent keeping the status quo.

A recent newscast about Rosa Parks prompted me to think about the importance of urgency.

History Speaks

In the context of tremendous and persistent inequality, one woman took action that defied powerful norms of an oppressive majority. In Montgomery City, Alabama the first 10 seats on buses were reserved for whites. When Rosa Parks chose her seat, she sat midway down the aisle.

With the bus nearly filled, a white man entered. He expected to be seated in the front area. Consistent with the prevailing law, the bus driver insisted that Parks and three other African Americans give up their seats for him to be proximal to the reserved whites only section. Quietly, Rosa Parks refused. She kept her seat and was arrested and convicted for breaking the “Jim Crow” laws.

At the time, a significant majority, of bus riders were African American. Eventually, the city-wide bus boycott of more than a full year generated extraordinary economic and social costs. Erosion of the racist separate but equal doctrine generated by the Plessy Case in 1896 was launched by the Supreme Court ‘s decision that found segregation unconstitutional in 1956. Sixty years for legal change – and many, many more decades after for social progress. Today, intended and unintended inequities still exist. 

The Green Jacket

Augusta is an all-male club and has been for 80 years. A few exclusive sponsorships are offered for the Masters golf tournament by the Augusta National Golf Club. IBM, a large and prominent corporation has been a consistent sponsor and the CEO is routinely offered a membership in the Club. Virginia Rometty is CEO of IBM. She is a golfer and die-hard fan. Rometty was denied an Augusta green jacket simply because she’s a woman. The Masters, is a famous golf tournament and  contemporary example of institutional sexism. People in power exclude others to retain their dominance. Jews were not invited for decades and blacks were excluded until 1990. For now, males want and seek control for an all-male club. 

Influentials Choose

When (and if) they choose, influential people can increase the speed of change and reduce costs – real dollars, social and opportunity costs. Leaders balance multiple interest in their choices. In the social sector, the aim is most often charity or justice for a vulnerable population. In the private sector, it is for responsible economic performance (and its benefits). Progress is greatly affected by leaders’ actions. Consider how your work might get further faster.

Whose needs are being served by the pace of change in your organization or community?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See :

Understanding & Influencing Choices

July 18, 2011

The Social Animal, a new book by David Brooks, asks: “Who are we? We are like spiritual Grand Central Stations. We are junctures where millions of sensations, emotions and signals interpenetrate every second. We are communications centers, and through some process we are not close to understanding, we have the ability to partially govern this traffic …We become fully ourselves only through the ever-richening interplay of our networks.”

Influences on Choice

Rodin’s thinker represents humanity. We consider ourselves thinking individuals separated from other animals by the power of reason. Choices are a big part of the reasoning we accomplish  each day – all day long. Brooks’ book provides some interesting features of our unconscious abilities.  He posits that our failure to cultivate moral and emotional faculties, our individual character, emotions and intuitions have huge opportunity cost.

Underneath any choice is architecture comprised of a set of structures  that defines  options. Logic consists of “if, then” sequences. For example, if we exercise often and eat well, then we’ll have good health. Your leadership can influence critical elements in choice architecture which will, ultimately, influence team and organization performance. “Priming” is one point of intervention  and “anchoring” is another.

Priming & Anchoring

Research shows that perceptions can influence people and then alters their  actions. This is priming. So, if you tell your staff to about a team that delivered results (“nimble,” innovative” and “successful”) they will perform better than they would without hearing the story. Likewise negative references oppress achievement. There is power in setting a positive tone and pointing out positive examples.

Anchoring is another helpful technique with teams. Because humans process information in context, it is important to be aware of mental patterns of relativity. Defining a commonly held understanding or “anchoring” is vital to integrated processes because it assures everyone has a shared idea of the intended goals or vision. For example, a “rich life” could be understood as holding substantial financial assets. However, some might consider it reflects good health or many intimate relationships (or both). Without an anchor or shared understanding, collective progress may be at great risk. Do you specify ideas, goals or practices in ways that ensure success? Do you intentionally minimize the potential for  multiple interpretations, assumptions and perspectives that interfere?

Other important factors that influence choices include: framing, expectations, inertia, arousal and loss aversion. They are all present and in dynamic play when working with others. These unconscious biases come to work every day.

 –Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See

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