Strategy 101: Lessons From My 18 Year old Son
Updated: Aug 1, 2022
Last year my son was finishing school and totally confused about what to study at university. The most obvious choice would have been for him to take up engineering, given his flair for computer programming and the market demand for engineering talent.
One day while he was preparing for his Engineering admissions, seeing his general enthusiasm ;-) I asked him how interested he really was in Engineering.
He replied “Not at all”
I was like – why didn’t you say so earlier? Do you know what you want to do?
Like most teen/ adults, he was fairly clueless. Giving him a clue became my top priority for the next few days. My approach was to help him find his answer by asking him questions.
My first question was about what subjects he liked so far – as expected he said computer programming and math.
Next I asked him what he enjoyed doing, other than sleeping and goofing off on the internet. His immediate response was Football (which didn’t surprise me one bit)
Follow up question – What do you want to do in football?
He said – Ideally I would like to play, but I don’t think I’m professional grade. So then what else can I do?
We spent the next few minutes talking about European club football and generally what is happening there. Over the next few days, we did a few things:
I spoke to a friend of mine who had done an MBA in Sports Management from Madrid. Her inputs – sports franchises were investing in developing/ engaging their global fan base and using data to improve their performances on the field.
Next we looked at the websites of various top clubs in Europe – Bayern Munich (his favourite), Chelsea, Manchester City and a few others. We were looking to see what sorts of jobs were posted which involved data/ technology. He found a few which looked interesting. Then we looked at what sort of qualifications were required for those jobs.
We then watched the movie Moneyball.
Based on all this, my son felt that studying data analysis techniques, computer programming to handle data and economics could be interesting.
Could he change his mind along the way? Sure! Very likely he might! But then he has gone in with a general sense of direction.
How does all this relate to business strategy? My issue with strategy is that people tend to make it sound very complicated. In simple terms it is the path you take to reach your goal.
How do you set your goal? Based on your skills or capabilities, your interests and the market demand. You are trying to find the sweet spot between these three elements and trying to chart out a course to that.
In my sons case, the skills were computer programming, the interest was football and the market was the jobs on offer at various football clubs. His strategy? Do a major in data analytics and minor in economics.
In the case of a business, your skills or capabilities are things like:
Your geographical presence
Your technology capabilities
Quality of team
Your financial capabilities and so on
What is your organizational DNA?
Which is the industry you want to focus on? For example, if you are a Pharma company, unlikely that you would want to focus on the aerospace industry suddenly
Or, it could be that your organization has a B2C DNA, getting into the B2B space could be tricky
Is there is a customer segment which is attractive enough which you can satisfy
This targeting is done iteratively till you find a sweet spot.
It is not always that you start with the market and work backwards. For example, 2 weeks back I was in conversation with a manufacturing firm which had excess manufacturing capacity which they had to utilize to optimize their cost structure. We iteratively looked at various market possibilities to identify a market that could be serviced using their existing manufacturing capacity.
And just like my son might change his mind as gets in and starts learning and doing projects and internships, organisations might change their strategy or even their goals, if they find out that some of their fundamental assumptions around their strategy is flawed!
During this process, and in several conversations over the past several weeks, what I've realised is that one of my superpowers is the ability to ask simple, probing questions which can throw up different perspectives.
Want your strategy reviewed by an external set of probing questions, give me a shout.