Molly's Search for Strategy. A short story about business strategy.
Molly’s Search for StrategyIn which Molly doesn’t get very far because nobody seems to know what they’re talking about. A short story by Charles Kingsmill
Molly was bored, so she went to see Dad.He was surrounded by paper. He lookedunhappy. He was reading out loud. “Therecommended template for the strategy islaid out in charts 1 to 63 with supportingmaterials in appendices A to G. What?What?” “What’s the matter, Dad?” asked Molly. “I’m cross because I have to write astrategy for work, that’s why. And theydon’t even seem to know what a strategyis.” “I’ll find out, Dad” said Molly. But Dad had gone back to his papers andhis muttering. “Nuts” he was saying. “Aslide deck is not a strategy”.
So Molly went to see Grandma.“What’s a strategy, Grandma?”“Why do you want to know?”asked Grandma.“I want to help Dad” said Molly.“Well, I think you should askaround” said Grandma.So Molly went to see Peacock.
“Do you know what a strategy is,Peacock?” asked Molly.“My strategy is to grow revenues from£30 million to £50 million” said Peacock,spreading his admittedly beautifulfeathers. “And to be recognised as theleading quality supplier in my industry.”Hmm, thought Molly, no mention of howhe’s going to achieve it. This is justhubris. And narcissism.“Nuts” announced Molly. “Just wantingto be big and admired is not a strategy.”So she went to see Bull. And Bear.
“Do you know what a strategy is, Bear orBull?” asked Molly.“Our strategy is to return to double-digitrevenue growth…“ said Bull. “… while atthe same time cutting costs…” addedBear. “… thereby increasing profitabilityto above 15%” finished Bull.Hmm, thought Molly, a P&L forecast. Butjust because the spreadsheet adds updoesn’t mean that the forecast does. Andshe sniffed, because she thought shesmelled something.“Nuts” concluded Molly. “A financialforecast is not a strategy.”So she went to see Dog.
“Do you know what a strategy is, Dog?”asked Molly.“I’m doing the right things already; mystrategy is to do it better” panted Dogkeenly.Hmm, thought Molly, at least Dog isenthusiastic. But anyone can beenthusiastic, and let’s face it, Dog isn’tthe smartest toy in the box.“Nuts” snorted Molly. “Trying harder isnot a strategy.”So she went to see Chameleon.
Chameleon was rippling betweenvarious gorgeous colours.“Do you know what a strategy is,Chameleon?” asked Molly.“My strategy is to be like the kings of thejungle: Apple, and Google, and Amazon”lisped Chameleon.Hmm, thought Molly, you don’t look like avery convincing king of the jungle to me.You’re really just a chameleon,pretending.“Nuts” decided Molly. “Imitation is not astrategy.”So she went to find Monkey.
She found Monkey jumping betweentrees.“Do you know what a strategy is,Monkey?” called Molly.“At our recent strategy retreat, weidentified a dozen strategic priorities,underpinned by over one hundredachievable market-facing activities”called Monkey back.Blimey, thought Molly, no wonder youcan never sit still. You’ll drive yourselfmad.“Nuts” called Molly. “Doing lots of thingsis not a strategy.”So she went to see Owl.
“Do you know what a strategy is, Owl?”asked Molly.“My strategy is to optimise returns bydisintermediating legacy playerrelationships in a range of industryadjacencies” hooted Owl.“Pardon?” said Molly.“I’m deleveraging structural competitivehorizontality” hooted Owl, impatiently.Hmm, thought Molly, there’s less to thisthan meets the eye.“Nuts” hooted Molly back. “Jargon is nota strategy.”So she went to see Ostrich.
Ostrich had his head in the sandpit.“Do you know what a strategy is,Ostrich?” asked Molly.“My strategy is to outperform the marketaverage” came a muffled voice.Hmm, thought Molly, then why are youhiding? How will that help?“Nuts” sniffed Molly. “Disregarding yourcompetitors is not a strategy.”So she went to see Parrot.
“Do you know what a strategy is,Parrot?” asked Molly.“Our strategy is straight from the gut. It’sto win, dummy!” cawed Parrot.Hmm, thought Molly. That is - by somedistance - the stupidest answer I’veheard today. I’ve had it with this lot.“Nuts” said Molly. “Exhortation is not astrategy.”“A strategy, a strategy, a strategy”cawed Parrot.“STOP SAYING THAT WORD” said Molly.“You don’t know what it means.”And very sadly, she trailed back to seeGrandma.
“Grandma, I didn’t find out what astrategy is” said Molly.“Well, what did you find out?”Molly sighed. “It was really annoying. Ifound out that nobody else knowseither.”“Well, that’s worth knowing in itself, isn’tit?” smiled Grandma.“Touché, Grandmamma. Very clever. Butpeople pretend they know what they’redoing and they don’t. They just don’t. It’sso silly. I just wanted to do something tohelp Dad, that’s all. I tried and I tried andit was so difficult and no-one had theanswer but it was important so I kepttrying anyway.”And she started to sniff. So Grandmanestled a little closer.
“Listen Molly. I think you’ve learned agood lesson today. Sometimes youdecide you’re going to be really helpfuland valuable to someone… but you don’tknow how. So you need a strategy. Thatmeans asking people for help and tryingout ideas… and maybe nothing seems towork at first… and it’s difficult… but youjust keep trying because it’s important.And eventually you figure out just howyou’re going to be helpful and valuable.That’s what having a strategy means.Hmm, thought Molly. Hmm. Hmm. “Doyou know, Grandma? I think you mayhave something there.”“Why don’t you go off and tell Dad allabout it?”“Okay Grandma” said Molly, smilingagain, and off she skipped.
Editor’s note: Grandma is of course wrong. A strategy is the application of co-ordinated resources to a point of leverage to overcomeobstacles in the way of some valuable objective. Hoot!
Charles Kingsmill helps teams tohammer out great business strategies. Contact: www.charleskingsmill.com firstname.lastname@example.org