What I’ve learned from Silicon Valley strategic geniuses
9 years ago

You are already winning the game you are playing.

Here’s what I mean. Your actions determine what field you are on, what position you are playing, and what the score is on the board.

But for many of us, we are trying to score a touchdown on a baseball field.

That’s because we have built our business strategy, and really our strategy for living, automatically by looking at what others are doing – what seems the most obvious and most predictable – and patching a plan together based on what worked for them.

What’s missing is a strategy for the game you want to be playing – a strategy that takes into account your abilities, your customer’s desires, and your industry’s cycle.

After spending a lot of time with some of the most exciting strategic geniuses in Silicon Valley and other places, I’ve put together what I think are the five qualities of strategic genius.

First Quality of Strategic Genius: Ability to predict non-linear trends

A lot of times people think the way business works is you build a product or a service and you build your graphs of what you think your company will do. People assume that the world isn’t going to change; that year upon year, you’re going to have that general hockey-stick graph on your business growth.

What I found is that people with strategic genius understand that trends are not always linear. In fact, they’re often cyclical and repeating those cycles is very predictable. You can see it in every industry, and even in our societal culture.

Want a great example? Think about the time when everything was diet this, diet that, and TAB was the cool drink of the moment. There was actually talk of creating a diet Oreo. Diet Oreo! Noticing the cyclic nature of trends, and anticipating a backlash from fans, Nabisco instead launched Double Stuff Oreos. Now that is strategic genius in action.

What nonlinear trends will occur in the next three to five years in your industry?

Second Quality of Strategic Genius: Change customer behavior the least, not the most.

Innovators want to change things, and since most entrepreneurs have an innovator’s heart, where we see a problem, we immediately want to come up with a new solution to it.

That’s what’s great about us, but it’s also what’s horrible about us.

Because we not only want to innovate a new solution, but we want to innovate a new way of doing everything, including a new way for the customer to do everything, and they don’t want to do everything in a new way.

They want to do it in the same way that they’ve done it before and get different results.

Strategic geniuses understand this and create new products and services that bring different results or abilities for the consumer while asking them to change their behavior the least.

What behavior in your business are you asking customers to change that you could accommodate instead?

If you’re going to change them the least, what behavior are you asking customers to change that you could accommodate instead?

Third Quality of Strategic Genius: Define the game that only you can win.

One of my favorite pop culture examples of this is the movie, “Moneyball”. There’s actually a scene in the movie where Brad Pitt says, “Look. We’re trying to play Yankee’s baseball and we’re going to lose Yankee’s baseball. We cannot win. We don’t have the money. They play moneyball. We can’t win. We have to play a different kind of ball.”

As simple as that statement sounds, I think all of us in some ways are trying to play Yankee’s baseball and we really need to find the games that we can win and that only we can win.

What game can you win and what can you be best in the world at?

Write that question down and consider it as part of how you can become a strategic genius in your industry.

Fourth Quality of Strategic Genius: Create triangular models or multimodal models.

Most business models really have two dimensions, two nodes, if you will. There’s you and then there’s the customer. You give value to the customer and then the customer returns that value in the form of payment to you.

That would be a binary system or a dual node system. Most business models are like that.

What you’ll notice about all the really successful companies, the fastest growing, fastest scaling, most strategic companies in the last decade, is that they all actually have more dimensions. They build a system where three or more parties can all give value to each other.

Because the parties are all giving value to each other on the system:

A) It allows the company to scale really quickly.

B) It means that the value that the company is delivering is far greater than they themselves can deliver to any one customer.

The idea is that you create the environment for people to come together and exchange value.

Who are all the people in your ecosystem and how can you build a container in which everyone can exchange value?

Fifth Quality of Strategic Genius: Be flexible in your definition of who you are.

You are your capabilities and assets. You’re not what you do or how you do it. You are not just your product or your service. I want to encourage you to be really flexible in how you define who you are.

What are your key assets and capabilities and what other value can you provide using those capabilities and assets?

Winning at Your Own Game

I began the article by saying you are already winning the you are playing. If you want to play a bigger game, one with more impact, you have to play the game you are the best in the world at.

When I first started thinking about this as an idea, I would get depressed because I was thinking, “There’s no game that I can be the best at. Everything I can think of doing, everyone else is already so good at.”

It’s true, but that’s actually exactly the point is that if we try and play the games of competing against someone who’s just the pinnacle in what they do, then you’re always going to be second at best, if not 5th or 105th.

But there are things that you are uniquely positioned to do and uniquely positioned to do well. There’s something about you that has you uniquely able to win that particular game.

The strategic point is to have the courage to literally put all the eggs in the basket and saying,“That’s the game I’m going to play.”

So, my final question for you is, “What game are you going to play?



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