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The Fifth Commandment Of Strategic Planning: The More Strategies, The Better

Jacob M. Engel - Forbes Councils Member Forbes Coaches Council Jacob M Engel is a CEO, author, Amazon bestseller, family business & entrepreneur's consultant, leadership coach & creator of online courses. According to many, the word “strategy” originates from the battlefield. Armies won and lost battles based on strategic planning and execution. I enjoy leadership books about various great personalities during wartime. My favorite is Churchill on Leadership: Executive Success in the Face of Adversity. Winston Churchill’s oft-quoted words are legendary and still extremely insightful for today’s CEOs:

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” “Success is not final, failure is not fatal — it is the courage to continue that counts.” “To improve is to change — to be perfect is to change often.” 

How can we build and improve our strategies? Incorporate these three phases into your strategic formula:

1. Brainstorm. Bring together your team and include your best thinkers. Allow them to go wide and deep. Every idea has value and should be heard. It might be a dud but it might inspire other thinking. Write everything down!

2. Seek potential. Ask the team to select those strategies that really have the greatest potential to drive the company’s goals forward. Be as open as you can to this process and allow everyone to participate.

3. Prioritize. Prioritize the strategies so that they coincide with the company’s goals and don’t create too much pressure on people to do everything at once.

Recently, I was listening to Dr. John Izzo, and he shared how frappuccinos were invented and how the drink has contributed $3.5 billion in profits. Izzo heard the story firsthand from Howard Behar, the eventual president of Starbucks. According to Behar, two of his employees noticed that when it got hot outside, customers didn’t come in. They wondered why, so they asked and learned that customers were buying ice cold drinks at a store nearby. They went and bought the same drink and found it refreshing. They suggested their manager do the same, and she agreed it was very refreshing. They then invited Behar to do the same. He agreed it was a great drink and brought it up at the next executive meeting. Behar and the concept were outvoted 7-1 for different (wrong) reasons, so he told the team, “sorry.” But they didn’t give up and, over a weekend, made their own cold drink and put up a handwritten sign. It sold out! The next day, the same thing happened. Eventually, it became a million-dollar item. By then, corporate was sold on the idea and the frappucino was born.

Many companies I work with are challenged by either not allowing themselves to rethink their strategies or not thinking outside of the box. As more products become commoditized and the barrier of entry is lowered, companies need to think, Where can I be adding more value and how will it translate into market share or higher profits or both?

I’ll illustrate what I mean with another story: There is a well-known product that has persevered in the marketplace for almost 70 years and it’s still at the top. Its called WD-40.  According to its website, in 1953, the missile industry asked a small company called Rocket Chemical Company to create an anti-corrosive spray for its missiles. They came up with the name WD-40 as it was a Water Displacement product and they tried 40 times before getting it right!

It wasn’t until employees found other uses that the company realized that they had a winning formula. They bottled it in cans and sold it to the public with great success. But the even greater success lay in a mind-boggling decision the company made which was to not patent their secret formula.

The reason?

People could still illegally duplicate it and patents eventually run out. By keeping it a secret, others haven’t been able to copy it and they have preserved their success.

So, you might ask yourself, “What would be a winning formula to consistently strategize, ask the right questions, and consistently come up with the right answers?”

Here is my not-so-secret formula and how I help many companies do it:

I use the Six Thinking Hats, a brilliant book written by Dr. Edward de Bono. It’s based on his findings that often times people debate an idea based on biases or personality instead of looking at it from all different angles.

He claims that by using his system you can cut down meetings by 50%.

The seemingly simple yet brilliant idea is to use six modes of thinking, represented by six hats of different colors.

The first and most important aspect is to have everyone think in the same direction and share everything they can think or feel on the subject. Meaning, if I present an innovative idea to my team, we all start off with the white hat which represents “facts.” No debates are allowed, just clarifications of the facts are permitted. Once everyone understands the facts, then the blue hat takes over. It represents the “process.” The yellow hat is introduced and everyone is asked to think of as many positives as they can about this idea. Allow a few minutes for everyone to write them down. Then, everyone reads their list and while there might be multiple thoughts, they are all in the same direction. The idea is to get everyone in a positive thinking mode. Then, you switch to the black hat, which is the negative-thinking hat. Again, everyone thinks all the negative things, writes them down, and shares. The green hat represents how ideas fit with the company mission and vision — maybe it’s a great idea but doesn’t align. The red hat represents emotional thinking or feeling without having to explain the reasoning. Many people use this to express their intuition — which can be a deciding factor, especially if there are highly intuitive people on the team. Lastly, the blue hat summarizes all the points for a decision. This way, you've covered all bases, gave everyone an opportunity to comfortably express their views, and, together, formulated a winning strategy.


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