Vision needs strategy

Most startups are founded on a vision; a wish to help bring about change to something in the world. But many lack a coherent strategy of how to get there in the end.

How come? The difference is in the meaning of the various words.

A vision is like a desert mirage. It’s aspirational, something we can imagine but is not real – yet.

A strategy is a plan to find the waterhole in the desert, so to say. It doesn’t have to be a complex plan with a lot of moving parts, but it needs to be a plan that can – if nothing else – convince people that not only might you be on to something. You actually also have some kind of idea of how to capture it.

Many startups frown at the word ‘strategy’ and doing strategy work is a pretty long way down the list of priorities. But while it’s true that execution is key and should take precedence over ‘thought’-work, they still need to set aside time to develop the plan.

Otherwise how are they ever going to make it to the fulfillment of the vision?

By luck? By endless trial-and-error?

Of course not. So get the strategy that supports the vision in place. Make it flexible based on what you learn on the journey, but nevertheless utilize it as a map to get to the destination, you’re longing for.

(Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash)

The rocket fuel of purpose

Recently I wrote about the 3 problems of purpose. It is thus only fair that I also offer a few words on how a deep-felt purpose can serve as rocket fuel for your business.

Lets start by taking a step back:

More often than not you know what and your company does and how to do it will. You might experts, market leaders within your field even. And by focusing on what you do – your core – you’re able to make it incrementally better, more powerful and/or valuable on a consistent basis.

But what happens when you have done everything you can, and your product is perfect (if such a state ever exists, but I am sure you get my point)? What then? What’s next?

This is where a deep felt purpose can come in handy for your business:

If you look at what you’re trying to achieve, the change you’re trying to foster rather than the products and services you deliver per se, then you can define a purpose that could effectively serve as a kickstarter for your ‘next big thing’.

Everybody who has ever had to come up with something new knows that the worst thing is the blank sheet of paper – it can be so daunting to start working and actually get something down, you can start working on.

With a solid deep-felt purpose you don’t have a blank sheet of paper anymore. You have a context; something to set your creative juices flowing. Something to get your ideas started and start thinking in new and/or complimentary products and services.

Because you have a deep-felt sense of what it is you’re trying to affect and the impact you could potentially have, if you succeed. And that is potentially rocket fuel for any venture.

But of course you need to have a legitimate deep-felt purpose. A fake or forlorn one won’t work.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Put yourself on the other side

Years ago I worked at Microsoft in an international role. I had a lot of dealings with US colleagues, and one thing that always puzzled me was how resistant they were to change or doing something differently.

That lasted until someone explained to me that in the US, the time is takes from a boss tells an employee he’s fired until the time, the employer is resolved from all obligations towards the unfortunate individual, is litterally the few seconds it takes to say “You’re fired”.

So when they resisted change, they were really just scared of potentially losing their jobs.

The experience made me realize that you always have to take a shot at trying to understand where the other side is coming from. Because while it can be super easy to get frustrated, there is usually an explanation behind it all; a context.

Sometimes it is even good and valid, and it always demands being treated with respect.

Does that mean that you should change the ways you think, the ideas you put forward and the way you see things being able to happen just to always suit the other side.

Not at all.

But it means you need to make sure that you don’t scare people off, so they jump to the wrong conclusions that could ultimately lead everything you’re working on astray.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Come on, lean in!

Yesterday I went for a summer get-together in my VL network group. Over a super nice summer meal, the discussion was flowing and we got talking about some of the things that you don’t normally find yourself talking about.

One of the discussions I was a part of was a discussion about what defines the opportunities we get in our professional lives. How did we become and do the things that we have become.

After some going back and forth, we agreed that what pretty much defined us had been the ability (and to some extend also luck, I guess) to invite ourselves to the party in crucial, defining moments:

Picking up on a sudden job opportunity presented by a promotion of a boss. Writing that unsolicited application. Sending the CEO an email after a meeting asking “Do you want more of this? I can offer you it”, etc.

Had we not done that our careers had not panned out the way they did (so far). It would have been vastly different. A lot of opportunities would never have been had, including opportunities to help create something meaningful and – in retrospect – perhaps even awesome.

It got me thinking.

How many of those I meet today are inviting themselves, taking charge of the conversation, having the ability and the guts to say “This is mine. I got this!”

Preciously few. Even with the opportunity presented right there in front of them, where it’s basically up for grabs.

Why is this important?

Because it is the people who are inviting themselves – who are leaning in across the table – that you really need on the team. It is those where you have got the feeling that if they continue to do that, chances are they will be awesome in the role. They will take ownership, take charge.

Because they care and really, really want it.

You want to be around people who really, really want it. It brings out not only the best in them but also the best in you.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Get the mandate

Whenever you take on an opportunity, make sure you have understood the mandate and you have it in a way that you can follow through on the ambition, you are trying to bring to life.

Why? Because it is dead easy to be flattered, take in all the kind words and accept a role, where everybody but yourself is in control. And when that happens, you will not be leading anything. You will be a spectator. A spectator running the risk of getting blamed, when the decisions of others come back to bite the project.

Be especially aware of this is you are considering an opportunity in a corporate environment. Corporate cultures are – for better and for worse – most often well established, and the chances of it changing for the sake of your opportunity is zero. Non-existing. Unless, that is, you make sure to get a very strong and powerful mandate from the ‘go’.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Remember the vision

Eventhough I am a big proponent of starting small and experimenting your way forward when building a startup or a new product or service for that matter, there is one thing that always needs to be in place: A vision.

It is so easy to get an idea and just start executing small scale. It is harder to succeed in closing the first sale, but it becomes super tricky if that first sale is not supported by a vision of where it is you want to take your new company long term.

With a vision in place, you will know whether your first sale sets you off in the right direction and gives you something to build on. With a vision in place, your chances of making that first sale happen based on criteria and terms that supports your overall goal increases. Without a vision you risk tumbling in the dark. And – more importantly – without a vision you risk building a business that will never really be able to take off but will just (best case) hum along.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Hypothetical strategy

The most common problems with strategy is that (a) it can be extremely poorly based on actual insight and data about market and customers and (b) it tends to become antique the moment, you have dotted the last i and crossed the last t in the grand plan.

When I recently tought a group of students at Aarhus Erhvervsakademi and Dansk Markedsføring about digital strategy and business development one of my main messages was that strategy today is not a plan. It is a set of hypothesis about market, customers and bets, we can make that we set ourselves goals towards trying to achieve. And remain flexible towards revisiting when needed. Not in terms of overall vision and goals but on the road towards that goal.

Strategy today is a fluent thing and with all the unknowns out there and the constant changing landscape, you need to be prepared to have your core hypothesis invalidated at any point in time. You need to be able to adapt, and you need to do so by defining new hypothesis that you can design your evolving strategy and market approach around. Everything else is – at best – wishful thinking.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)