Strategy Design and Visual Strategic Planning

Neglect this all-important success skill and you will surely head down the path to mediocrity or even oblivion

It’s sad but true.  There is an all-important skill that if neglected or performed poorly, will put you on the fast-track to failure.  What is it?  Why don’t I let world-famous Harvard Business School professor, Michael Porter, point it out to you:

“The company without a strategy is willing to try anything. If all you’re trying to do is essentially the same thing as your rivals, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be very successful.”

– Professor Michael Porter. Harvard Business School.

Of course, the skill that myself and Professor Porter are referring to is the art of formulating good strategy. Bottom line?  If you have no strategy or a dumb strategy then – to paraphrase a line from that old drink-drive tv commercial – you are a bloody idiot.

Actually, when it comes to understanding the importance of strategy, there’s a lot we can learn from military warfare.  Indeed, one of the most-read books on my bookshelf is the military classic, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

Interestingly, The Art of War is part of the literary collection the US army keeps and “during the Persian Gulf war in the 1990s, both General Norman Schwarzkopf. Jr and General Colin Powell practiced Sun Tzu’s principles of deception, speed, and attacking the enemy’s weakness.” (source: Wikipedia). 

It obviously helped because the Allied force’s Operation Desert Storm rates as one of the most successful military campaigns ever.  It was quick, effective and extremely one-sided – and thanks to 24-hour on-the-spot news coverage courtesy of CNN, those of us old enough in 1990/1991 got to see the whole thing unfold on our tv screens.

One other field which highlights the importance of strategy is sport.  In particular, invasion team sports such as football, rugby, gridiron, basketball and baseball showcase strategy when teams play each other.  And, when we watch high-profile editions of these sports on tv or live, we see first-hand how a game plan unfolds on the field. Coaches of elite sports teams invest years developing their craft, and in improving and perfecting their strategy skills.

Ultimately, good strategy is crucial to success in warfare, sport, fitness, business and indeed anything where high performance is required.

As a business leader you need to apply principles of deception, speed, attacking the enemy’s weakness to your business.  Therefore, you need to do what successful military leaders and sports coaches do – engage in serious strategic thinking and develop strategies for success.

Let me introduce you to a range of powerful, yet time-effective services to help you to craft winning strategies and create brilliant tactics for your business.They include:

The Strategic War Room – Strategic Planning Facilitation where we assist you with the analysis and development of your strategy and plan

Strategic MBA Strategy Education – Where we teach you the art and science of strategy, together with other “important stuff they don’t teach enough at business school.”

Strategy projects – High-level projects in:

  • Business growth strategy
  • Business modelling
  • Product development
  • Strategic branding
  • Sales and marketing strategy
  • Team culture and development strategy

Strategy Sessions – Short-term troubleshooting or brainstorming sessions to generate ideas or solve a problem

So what makes these services powerful?

Our strategy services offer several unique features that make them extremely powerful. These are:

  1. A foundation of creativity and intuition
  2. Powered by design thinking
  3. Powerful strategy processes

1. A foundation of creativity and Intuition

einstein intuition quote

Our strategy philosophy is simple. Business is a competition and to win the game you’ve got to out-think and out-maneuver your competitors not just once, but on an ongoing basis. The secret? Constantly develop and then execute great ideas and strategies.

Yes, it’s true. Constantly developing and executing great ideas and strategies is the one and only way to grow a business. It’s also why businesses use us for fresh ideas, clear and insightful thinking and new ways to propel them to higher levels of performance.

But where do great ideas and strategies come from? As alluded to by Albert Einstein, they’re primarily produced from creativity and intuition.  And my philosophy is that any strategic thinking and planning initiative needs to be led by creativity and intuition, and supported by intellect.

Now, this philosophy may fly in the face of conventional business wisdom with its emphasis on skills like finance, accounting and the need to do things sequentially and orderly. But it’s the reality my friend.  Ideas drive your business, and intuition and creativity are your most important assets.  This was highlighted by Daniel Pink’s best-selling book, A Whole New Mind, published in 2005:

“The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind— computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”

The good news for you? Our services are built upon a foundation of creativity and intuition. So you get a wealth of ideas. Just as importantly however, these ideas will be supported by high quality analysis and intellect. I call them intelligent ideas.  How do we make them intelligent? We apply the principles and practices of design thinking.

2. Powered by design thinking and visual strategic planning

The best way to harness creativity and intuition is through the application of design thinking and visual strategic planning principles and tools.You may not have heard of design thinking before, so let me introduce it to you.

As highlighted above, design thinking is a design-based approach to developing strategies, solving problems and improving performance.  It applies “whole brain” thinking that integrates creativity and ideation with analytical thinking processes.  The result?  Design thinking combines art and science to create innovative concepts, strategies and solutions.

When applied to strategic planning, design thinking uses visual tools such as sketches, matrices, drawings, charts, infographics and prototypes to analyse and formulate strategies and plans – thereby more effectively engaging the brain’s right hemisphere.  This is in contrast to the left-brain spreadsheet, numbers and sequential type planning that is more commonly used in business.

The concept of design thinking has evolved over the last 20 years and has really come of age since the mid 2000s.  Large companies that utilize design thinking include Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Google and Coca Cola. Even some major universities – such as Harvard and Stanford – teach design thinking to their business students. Why?  Take a look at these benefits:

  • Analysis is much more creative and insightful.  Because you’re using visual tools to analyse you can better see the forest from the trees.
  • Your strategies and ideas are more innovative. My visual tools will help you to identify and create the right strategies you need to compete.
  • Resulting plans are more concise and easier to read – with a completed plan that highlights your strategy and key actions on a single A3 or A2 page.  And the best part is, they can be better understood by everyone in the organization – from CEO to the cleaner.
  • Perfect for owners of small to mid-sized firms.  If you’re the owner of a smaller firm – say with fewer than 50 employees – forget the traditional, complex planning approaches taught in business schools and books for large corporates.  My approach is far simpler…and it is perfect for the little guys.

Design thinking technology used in many domains – from the military to top sports teams

Actually, the concept of design thinking is not new, and has been used in a number of domains for many years, from the military through to sport. Here is an example from World War II.


And this example is of a rugby “play” that teams I’ve coached have learned and used.

In both these examples, a visual process has been used to lay out the plan for beating the opponent.  Further, because the plans are visually focused, they are easier to read and understand. 

My take home message to you?  You must take a visual thinking approach to strategic thinking and planning.

One Pager Plans

Another valuable strategic planning tool I’ve developed is One Pagers. These are one page strategic plans that visually outline your strategy and key actions on a single page.  This enables you and your key team members to quickly and easily understand your strategy, implement its key actions and keep track of your progress.

As you’ve probably learned through experience, few people take the time to read strategic plans. Reading One Pagers though is a breeze.  They’re a fast, easy way for everyone in your business to understand what your business is all about, and what steps need to be taken to move the business forward.

3. The Processes

As already explained, our strategy services apply the principles of design thinking to formulate ideas, strategies and solutions.  Highlighted here is a generic process we use for a variety of projects.

For high-level business strategic planning and development we apply a business-specific process based on the Strategic Growth Blueprint, shown here:


The process followed is comprehensive, without being too analytical or bogged down in detail.  That way minds remain relatively clear, which then allows more creative solutions to be developed.  In other words, the process is flexible, while still following a clear pathway.  This allows you to focus on those issues that are strategically important to your future success and development.

Just as in military planning, a key phase in the strategic planning process is getting an accurate assessment of internal and environmental conditions, and in knowing exactly what your current position is. This means gaining an intimate understanding of your business, industry, competitors and the marketplace generally. With our services we take both a helicopter (top down) and microscopic (inside out) look at your business and review areas such as:

  • Strategic positioning
  • Product/service mix
  • Brand reputation
  • Channel strategy
  • Leadership and management
  • Back end revenue generation
  • Margins and pricing
  • Revenue stream model
  • Target markets and/or end users
  • Sales processes
  • Branding strategy and brand portfolio
  • Internal structures and processes
  • Skill base/core competencies
  • Personal goals, desires and ambitions
  • Brand awareness campaigns
  • Sales force effectiveness

On the execution front we analyze the performance of your key business growth systems.  In other words, we take an in-depth look at these systems and tactics to determine how well you:

  • Generate brand awareness (Branding and advertising effectiveness)
  • Convert brand awareness into sales leads (Opt-in rate)
  • Convert leads into customers (Sales conversion process)
  • Service and retain customers
  • Sell more frequently to existing customers
  • Sell higher unit sales values to existing customers
  • Optimize gross margins and utilize fixed costs

In reviewing financial performance we can go deeper than analyzing traditional metrics such as revenue growth, cashflow, COGS and EBITD.  We can also look at factors such as where the revenue has derived from, cost per lead, cost per acquisition, retention rate and other little known yet highly critical financial indicators.  This is important analytical information that even many financial analysts don’t know about.

Next, the data from this analysis is used to answer some very important questions such as:

  • Do we need to amend our business strategy?  If so, what changes do we need to make?
  • What competitive threats and risks should we prepare for and how?
  • How do we improve the quality of our brand building efforts?
  • How do we ensure our products/services remain attractive to current and future customers?
  • How do we extract higher margins?
  • Is our organizational structure appropriate for future growth?
  • What intellectual capital/skilled talent do we need to move us forward?
  • Why is our marketing not working as well as it should be?
  • How do we increase sales and profitability?

Once your current situation is fully analyzed and reviewed we then go through the process of generating ideas. For your own business these may involve minor strategic tweaking, or they could be far more comprehensive. Recommendations and ideas may include:

  • Business or product development/re-positioning
  • Adjusting your product portfolio
  • Changing target markets
  • Altering sales model and systems
  • Changing pricing structure
  • Re-branding
  • Amending business structure or systems
  • Implementing different marketing campaigns and approaches
  • Franchise/license/channel development

Depending on the level of service you require, we provide up to 12 months follow up and support.   This will allow you to tap my brains on an as-needed basis for ongoing strategic support and guidance.

Another reason why this ongoing support is vital is because marketplace conditions change rapidly, which is why your strategy should be flexible and adaptable to change.  So, with the ongoing support provided by our services you get the help you need to deal with changing marketplace conditions.


When it comes to understanding the significance of strategic and tactical planning, Sun Tzu had this to say:

“Therefore the skillful commander takes up a position in which he cannot be defeated and misses no opportunity to master his enemy”

(From The Art of War)

Effective business strategic and tactical planning allows you to take up a business position in which you cannot be beaten, and in which you master your competitors and marketplace conditions generally.

As a business owner, you cannot under-estimate the importance of strategic thinking. Fact is, all successful leaders – in business, sport and the military – engage in high-level strategic thinking and planning.  You can too with the help of strategy services powered by design thinking.

So, if you want to master your marketplace and competitors, then enquire about these services for your business. For more information please call 0064 9 534 9417.