Having done a lot of strategy work with organizations over the years, one commonality I have found is that nearly all organizations make strategy more complicated than it needs to be.
Indeed, I suspect that a view of strategy as being something time-intensive and complex is one of the key factors that keeps many organizations from engaging in serious strategy work in the first place. (Most association education programs, our research has consistently shown, do not have any sort of formal, documented strategy.)
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In simplest terms, a strategy is a clear vision of the desired future state of your business. This vision then provides a touchstone for making decisions about the activities you undertake. “Does this contribute in a meaningful way to achieving our future vision?” is the essential strategic question.
But how do you set the future vision?
You can, of course, conduct extensive competitive research, run focus groups, distribute surveys far and wide. You can whisk the key leaders in your organization away for a multi-day, off site retreat, complete with ropes courses and sweat lodges. You can travel to the top of a mountain in Tibet to consult a guru.
Or, you could try asking this one question of yourself and your staff: What would 10x better look like?
Just asking the question raises all sorts of other questions that – while challenging at first – pave the road to clarity. Like:
- What do we mean by “better?”
- 10x what? Courses? Events? Learners? Revenue? Value? Impact? What’s really most important to us?
Stay focused on the future at this point. Don’t start getting bogged down in “how” – that will come soon enough. Stay focused on the “what.”
And don’t get hung up on the concept of “10x.” It’s an arbitrary multiplier meant only to signify “a dramatic leap forward.” If it threatens to make your head explode, then use “5x” instead, or even “3x” if you must. But whatever you do, don’t add: multiply. Go for a real stretch. Incremental improvements are rarely the stuff of great strategy.
Once – and only once – you have a clear focus on the “what,” on the your vision of the future, then you can start identifying the issues that will need to be tackled to make that future a reality. Your plan for tackling these issues becomes the implementation of your strategy.
It is at this point, by the way, that it makes most sense to do things like surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Use these to validate, adjust, and communicate your strategy, but not as the basis for it.
That’s it: the 10x test.
I guarantee you that if you actively and honestly engage this question you will arrive at a compelling strategy. No sweat lodges or gurus required.
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