I’ve said similar a few times before, but never as eloquently.
In reality, my framing is slightly different. Specifically, what is described here is the difference between strategy and operations. If we think about business (or most activities) as a system, then operations (or ‘optimisation’) is driving the productivity of the existing system. Strategy on the other hand is the design (or redesign) of the system itself – a fundamentally more creative act.
(On a side note, most management consulting projects actually deal with ‘optimisation’, yet ‘strategy’ and ‘consulting’ are often conflated. Not to throw stones, but it means there are a lot of current and ex-consultants out there who think they know strategy*.)
The value of the strategist comes in large part from two activities. The first, one might call optimisation, in which we use our skills to improve the on-going performance of the brand or business. These are often the many small interventions that fine-tune the activities of the organisation, from communications to culture and product propositions to reputation. This is, in many ways, the day job of the strategist, justifying our keep by squeezing a little more performance from current operations.
However, there is another kind of value that good strategists deliver and that one might call periodic disruption. This is when we help resolve the fundamental questions that a brand of business faces, questions that are about direction rather than simply progress. It is disruptive because it embraces the need to step beyond the conditions that have delivered success to date. And in doing so, allows the brand or business to ‘re-curve’, as the management guru Charles Handy would have it, in order to find a new source of success or means of serving the end customer. This may take the form of new products, propositions, positioning or purpose depending on the issues facing the business.
That’s the real role of strategy and of the strategist, finding new growth by answering the big questions that face the organisation. There are other things that we do but this is where we add real value.