Strategy Stories from ACS

Strategy Stories from ACS: Brief presentations on a single strategy topic

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What We Can Learn About Strategy From a Bowling Ball

A true story: I bowl badly. How can I do better at bowling without hurting myself?

The same problem shows up in business. How can businesses do better without hurting themselves?

(June 7, 2022. 11 minutes.)


That’s all very nice, we say, but is it actionable? We seek actionable data, actionable insight, actionable intelligence.

In this Strategy Story, we’ll see that “is it actionable?” is the wrong question because everything is actionable. The better alternative: Focus on decisions.

(June 23, 2021. 13 minutes.)

The Strategy Questions No One Asks

Four simple questions that every strategist asks and that can lead every strategist astray: Why do strategies fail, what is your market-share forecast, what will your competitors do, and what is essential for your strategy to succeed. Four simple questions that can do better.

(May 14, 2021. 11 minutes.)

Shiny Companies: Who Should We Emulate?

We love shiny objects. We love shiny companies. If Apple, number four on the 2020 Fortune 500 list, does X, then I want to do X! I don’t want to emulate a dull company. But whether to emulate shiny companies or dull companies is not so simple… and it is a trick question.

(April 23, 2021. 9 minutes.)

How to Judge a Strategy

Judging a strategy sounds pretty simple: Take the results and subtract the target. If you get a positive number, the results beat the target. If you get a negative number, the results missed the target. And if you get zero, the results matched the target.

But that’s wrong. That’s how you measure results versus targets, but it is not how to judge a strategy, or a strategist.

(March 16, 2021. 10 minutes.)

How to Spot Other Peopl’s Mistakes

Obvious mitsakes aren’t so bad; there’s always someone to spot them and fix them. It’s the hidden, subtle errors that cause trouble. Here we discuss bias, logic, and Australian sharks. I’m sure I would never fall into the logic traps I describe in this presentation, and neither would you. But they’re fun and you can use them to amaze your friends.

(February 4, 2021. 12 minutes.)

It’s Not Groupthink, It’s Consensus

Companies cause bias. Unintentionally, of course, but they cause it nonetheless. We don’t need rocket science, artificial intelligence, or miracle cures to prevent company-caused bias. All we need is a healthy diet of good, organic competitive-strategy thinking. And positive thinking! We can do it!

(January 13, 2021. 10 minutes.)

So Far, So Good

How do you know your strategy is working? Two problems. False positives: It looks like it’s working, but it’s not. False negatives: It looks like it failed, but it didn’t. Plus, two key words that make all the difference in how to judge a strategy’s performance.

(January 8, 2021. 12 minutes.)

When Strategic Thinking Matters Most

There are countless definitions of strategic thinking. That’s nice. Here, though, we focus on when strategic thinking matters most. It involves uncertainty, ripple effects, baseball, and pickled sheep’s brain.

(December 22, 2020. 10 minutes.)

The Games Strategists Play

What game does your company play? It might play crush the competition, tailgate the customer, follow our tradition, keep cutting costs, or get the deal. Or perhaps it plays the biggest, most popular game of all: make the numbers. For competitive strategists, though, there’s a much better game.

(December 7, 2020. 10 minutes.)

With All This Intelligence, Why Don’t We Have Better Strategies?

We all agree: Bias is bad. The problem is, we don’t feel biased. What, exactly, does bias feel like? How do we know when we’ve conquered it? “Don’t worry, boss, I’m not biased anymore.” But it gets worse. Bias is in our tools, not only in our heads.

(December 5, 2020. 12 minutes. Updated from my article of the same name in The Journal of Business Strategy.)

Why Strategies Fail (even though everyone plans to succeed)

We will not talk about strategies that fail because of bad luck or an extreme external shock, such as the pandemic. We will talk instead about strategies that fail in slow motion over decades, and about the strategy equivalent of believing the sun orbits the earth.

(December 5, 2020. 10 minutes.)