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Which Strategic Future Possibility Is the “Right” Choice?

The strategy making process advocated by Martin and Lafley (Playing To Win) should generate three to six possible strategies worth competing for. While these strategic possibilities should include the current “status-quo” (i.e. keep doing what we are doing now) as a point of reference, the remaining possibilities under consideration should be bold and ambitious.

The strategic possibilities you ultimately choose to execute is driven by your “winning aspiration.” If you have low aspirations, it’s likely you will continue to subscribe to the status-quo. This might be sufficient for your business today, but as we have discussed in many of my previous articles, this ultimately will lead to stagnation and market decline.

The reality is, without an ambitious aspiration, you will never win in the future, and someone else will. A winning aspiration sets the tone and tempo for your organization. It inspires your team to move forward into the unknown and accomplish greatness in the face of uncertainty and adversity.

How do you know if you have a winning aspiration to rally the troops behind?

It’s important to understand that winning aspirations aren’t created in a vacuum. Rather, they evolve as the strategy making and innovation process goes through various iterations. So don’t worry and get hung-up if you don’t have a clearly defined winning aspiration at the onset of the strategy making process. It will evolve as you work your way through the process.

Having said that, you should be able to define a winning aspiration fairly early in the strategy making process. Certainly well before significant time and effort is spent on testing and executing the strategy.

According to Martin and Lafley, you will know you have a winning aspiration (for each strategic possibility) when:
• It is about playing to win, rather than playing to play
• It clearly connects to the where-to-play and how-to-win choices
• It is specific and concrete, rather than all-encompassing (i.e., the aspiration could not plausibly fit every company in your industry)

Which of these future possibilities is the right strategy for us?

A first good place to start is to ask whether or not the strategic possibility under consideration has an inspiring winning aspiration. If the future possibility under consideration doesn’t evoke a certain level of fear and discomforted – there’s a good chance the possibility is nothing more than an extension of the status-quo. If your objective is to create a bold and breakthrough strategy, it’s a good bet this possibility won’t get you there.

Assuming the remaining possibilities evoke both excitement and discomfort, you can now move the possibilities further into the strategy making process and systematical discover what would have to be true for this strategic possibility to be great.

In my previous article “What Are The Conditions That Must Be True For This Bold Idea To Be A Market Success?,” we learned how to identify specific conditions that must be true for a strategic possibility (including a bold new product) to be great and executable. These conditions represent a set of critical assumptions we use to test and validate our hypothesis.

What assumptions should we test first?

This might sound a bit counter intuitive, but our goal is to test in descending order, the assumptions that absolutely must be true in order for the possibility to be great. The reason we go from the most essential to the least essential is to identify the validity of the core essence of the hypothesis sooner than later.

If we discover an essential condition can’t be met – i.e. our bold idea doesn’t really address an important job people want to get done (a solution looking for a problem), we can dismiss the “strategic possibility” and move on to the next “possibility” to test and validate.

Of course the method we choose to test an assumption is critical and makes or breaks or ability to innovate and be bold. It’s quite easy to wimp out early on it the process because the future looks too fuzzy and uncertain. It’s also easy to blindly move forward by fiat vs. fact, only to discover our assumptions were totally wrong. This is why we want to use an iterative design and test process: Testing early, testing often, and testing cheaply (in relative terms).

So for example if we are unsure that people will want to hire the bold new product we propose, we would set out to test and validate that assumption using a verity of approaches. We could start out with simple market research techniques for example – observing and probing people as they try to get important jobs done. And/or build and test simple prototypes / minimal viable products to present to potential job executors to get their reaction and feedback.

The essence of Martin and Lafley’s “play to win” strategy making is to identify attractive future possibilities (what victory looks like or in their words “what a happy future looks like”), identify the core set of conditions that must be true in order for a possibility to be a great strategy, and use iterative design and testing to validate and design your way to success.

Find your winning aspiration and design your way to success!

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Kevin

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