What is strategy? A definition and 3×3 insights for successful strategies

A great question. What is actually strategy?
Quickly browse the internet and you will find many different definitions: It is a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty. A plan of action designed to achieve long-term or overall aim. A method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem.
Done. Or not? No, not really. We approach strategy with our own definition:

The essence of strategy is Making Choices

Once you make choices you can direct all you energy towards the thing that you want to focus on. Distractions can be neglected. Discussions can be closed. Investments can be made. But it is not easy to make choices. We often hear that ‘there is no strategy or purpose’ or ‘no-one knows where the industry is heading’. We also find that people have a hard time choosing between ‘what we want to do’ and ‘where market demand is’.

How to solve this?
Below we discuss 3 times 3 insights when it comes to a successful strategy. This will help you drive strategic thinking internally.

  • 3 Main barriers to actually having a strategy
  • 3 Mindsets for creating a strategy
  • 3 Tools for building a strategy


3 Main barriers to having a strategy

Let’s start. Why do people refrain from making choices? What is holding them back? Here are the three main barriers:

1. Market uncertainty

What is the future of our business? Where is growth? What are promising innovation areas? Who will disrupt the value chain and why?
“What if we focus on the wrong thing?” There is no crystal ball, but deep and thorough work will deliver insights and foresight. Making choices is much easier with a  clear map in hand.

2. Lack of a clear purpose

What is our goal as an organisation? What role should we play? How do we balance people, planet and profit?
“What if we do not create the right fit with our organisation?” A company’s heritage or DNA says a lot about the past, and about the future. Balancing this with societal changes, fresh thinking and new energy delivers a twist on what we started out with.

3. Afraid to choose the wrong path

How do we organise for success? How to execute and create impact? How do we mitigate risks and failures?
“What if we do not make it?” The how is not for now, one Fronteer partner, Hein van Es, famously said. Once you find pockets of growth and a clear direction, you can start worrying about the rest. Create clear roadmaps first, also for organisations.

These ‘what if’ questions lead to paralysis. No-one dares to make choices and so the old systems remain intact. Historic business models continue to dominate, old structures block progress. Taking these 3 questions head-on is fruitful, powerful, worthwhile and fun. Being honest is valued over cloudy presentations and heavy discussions.


3 Mindsets for creating a strategy

Next. The mindset of a strategist helps. A strategist is able to balance emotion and ratio, is open for new ideas and develops his own vision. He (m/f) thinks ahead, while looking for short-term impact. He mesmerises crowds and stays down to earth. He sticks to a plan and experiments. He creates structure and allows others to flourish. Consider these three traits of a strategist:

1. Analytical

Be able to structure problems and solutions quickly and clearly. Find the essence. Dare to confront people with harsh realities. Praise competitors. See the inevitability of trends and know when they create impact. Ask the questions people forgot or do not dare to ask.

2. Creative

Jump from one branch to another. Make connections never seen before. Add juice and joy to concepts. Have the mind of a young person, free from constraints. Dare to say “How amazing it is if we could…”

3. Imaginative

Paint the picture of a new world. Tap into the deepest human emotions and translate these into images and words with impact. Dream about the big picture. Create a longing feeling with an audience in awe. Be an inspirator.


3 Tools for building a strategy

Thirdly and most practically, a strategist needs tools and frameworks to communicate his thinking. There is not one model, there are thousands. The complexity of the world can be captured in an infinite amount of two-by-twos. However, we can safely say that in order to build a great strategy, three ways of working are golden:

1. Hypothesis-driven

Your hypothesis is your most powerful tool. The start and the heart of a strategy is sound thinking. The final strategy should have a clear and compelling structure that circles back to hypothesis. For example by defining objectives, goals, strategies and measures (OGSM, Business Openers).

2. Business definition

Defining a company’s business is often undervalued. Redefining the (client’s) business even more. However, it is a powerful tool that helps to identify opportunities and make strategic choices. You should clearly articulate what business we play, what our role or purpose is, what we offer to whom, how we differentiate ourselves, and why we will win.

3. Provocative and Inspiring

The best strategies are concise, powerful and words are carefully chosen. They are remembered, spread virally internally and stimulate thinking throughout the organisation. Images triggers emotions. People deliver them.


Read more about the Four key elements of a successful innovation strategy.