4 Ways You Can Kill Your Strategy

David Kilcullen is an Australian global military strategist, is regarded as one of the world’s top counterinsurgency experts and has been a strategic military advisor at the top echelons of global military power (he worked for Condoleeza Rice and Gen. David Petraeus, amongst others).


David was recently being interviewed on Australia’s Broadcasting Corporation about his latest book and made a simple, yet significant, statement regarding strategy to which everyone should pay attention:

Just because a strategy worked in the past, does not mean that it will work again in the future – David Kilcullen

It was a mistake that David learned while studying Indonesian strategy and tactics for his PhD thesis, but the point is a broader one he made in reference to the ongoing global ‘war on terror’. And, as one of the architects of key pillars of the US’s strategy, he admits to his own mistakes, as well as those of governments past and present.

The fascination with ‘best practice’ that many advocate in leadership and strategy is based on a false premise: that one can simply overlay the particulars of another situation, context, purpose over the goals and processes of entirely different individuals and organisations and even times. What worked best, even for you, really may not work that well right here, right now.

Are there broad principles and values that will always be relevant? Yes. Should they dictate the same actions and tactics every time? No.

Here are 4 Ways You Can Kill Your Strategy – Personal and Corporate

1. Assume that what worked for you in the past will continue to work for you in the future.

One business I was assessing for their organisational dynamics and business performance, had the penchant for continuing to do what they had for years: They had built a viable company. They had achieved healthy profits in the past. Sure, they didn’t do some things they knew they should, but things had worked until now. What would be the point of changing it? The point was: It had only just worked and was straining at every point, ready to explode apart.

Times do change and the demands and dynamics of the moment do change. You need to consciously and intelligently take hold of those, determine your purpose and desired destination and then formulate a strategy that you can run with for now. – Peter McLean

2. Think that someone else’s best practice should become your own.

Best practice cannot simply be overlaid on your own. Particularly as most ‘best practice’ focuses on the end actions, rather than a process that helped to determine the conclusions that enabled those actions. I have worked with companies who have adopted the market strategy of others, expecting the same great results. Time and again, it didn’t work. Additionally, the dirty little truth is that other people and organisations almost never tell you the full details of their ‘best practice’. Simply applying their end results is a seriously misinformed miscalculation.

Even within organisations, I have seen leaders shortcut processes that actually made the difference to their past successes, thinking all they had to do was apply the same ‘best practice’ solutions they had arrived at before. They didn’t realise that it was the process itself that created the great outcomes, not the conclusions.

3. Don’t consider your own abilities and resources in the formulation of the strategy.

Too many individuals and businesses adopt a strategy that does not consider their own, personal, gifts, abilities, and the many resources – psychological, financial, capital assets, etc. – required to enable successful expansion into a territory.

I was on the strategic advisory board of a large non-profit that had undertaken a large-scale strategic review of their entire sector. The consultants came back proposing that the organisation expand into a facet of the sector that was of huge growth potential nationwide and extremely under-served. The executive were keen. The problem was, they were already serving in a small scale in this area and had experienced significant problems and catastrophes. I argued that the organisation had to make what it was doing work well, before it could begin to consider expansion in this area. Thankfully, the executive listened and took another tack, growing out of their organisation’s clear strengths, which has been very successful for them.

Whether you can use your own, or have to buy in, you need to strongly consider the most natural outflow of your capacities in determining your overall goals and actions – Peter McLean

4. Rely solely on your own insight.

It is impossible to see your own face, without a mirror, a video or someone’s sketch of your visage. It’s the same with our work, our abilities, our potential and our problems. An insightful, objective party can paint you a more accurate picture that literally changes your perceptions and therefore your insight. Likewise, if you limit yourself to your own two eyes, you never see all there is to see. Like using Google Maps to view your neighbourhood, or seeing a video of you in action in your own environment, an external view completely changes your understanding and your determination of how you can interact better with your environment.

Relying on your lone insight means you will never be able to paint an accurate picture of yourself, never see the overview and never see from different angles and perspectives how you can work to your truest potential.

Just because something worked well in the past, does not mean it will in the future. Use all of your resources to consider and formulate strategy and tactics that will work for the now. – Peter McLean

When have you seen best practice help create success and when has it hampered it? Leave a comment on my blog or click here.

© 2016 Peter J. McLean. Web: www.lamplighter.com.au , www.authenticspeaking.com  Blog: petermclean.co

If you want to work with me or discuss having me speak to your organisation or event, contact me here.

‘Best Practice’ Can Ruin Your Strategy
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