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Strategy is Not Problem-Solving

Why will your customer buy from you instead of your competitor?


I received a notice from a well-known university for a strategy workshop to “master strategy consulting skills,” identified as the skill of “structured problem solving.” Using templates and tools, the program aims help develop recommendations for clients.

I have no doubt the participants of this workshop will be engaged by large firms to tell them what to do and generate large fees. I also have no doubt that most of that money will be wasted.

Problem-solving is not strategy and telling people what to do is rarely effective. Does it work for you at home?

A problem is a deviation from expectations for which you don’t know the cause. Problem-solving means you identify the cause of the problem and fix it in order to return to the previous state. My car won’t start – I identify my starter motor is bad. I replace it. My car starts again. It will not, however, go faster, be more comfortable or have more windows.

Crafting strategy should identify how you will win in your chosen environment. Why will your customer buy from you instead of your competitor? Answering that question involves :

a. Identifying your ideal customer

b. Understanding their needs

c. Innovating a profitable (and ideally defensible) way of meeting that need.

Doesn’t sound like problem-solving, does it?

Guess who should craft that strategy? An outsider who doesn’t have to execute it? See how that works for you.

We all are emotionally attached and much better prepared to deliver on a solution that we create ourselves and strategy is no different. One of the strong principles for creating a committed team is to let them figure out how to accomplish the objectives of the organization. Micromanage them and tell them exactly how to do their jobs and you might, at best, get compliance, but you won’t get commitment.

Senior leadership in business tends not to embrace ideas unless they create them themselves. By all means a facilitator to help them work through the preparation and the conversation is most often required, but they will not be spoon-fed.

So by all means learn the process of problem-solving (yes, there is one) but do not think that problem-solving equates to strategy and don’t buy that strategy from someone else!

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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