Do you have IIT Question Syndrome ?

Context

I have been a strategy consultant for past 9 years. In these years I have observed an intriguing behavior:

People often discount the output of a Strategy assignment. They consider the output of a typical strategy assignment to be either very obvious or very simple.

Interestingly, this perception is not just about some of the projects I have worked upon, but also about some of the famous strategy frameworks!

In order to make you appreciate this better, I invite you to a thought experiment: Think about the following frameworks: BCG growth-share matrix, Porter’s 5 -forces, and 4P’s of Marketing. Now, ask yourselves as honestly as possible: Does any of these frameworks really look like a big deal?

Chances are that this is what most of you would be thinking:

What is the big deal with these frameworks? After all, don’t these frameworks all seem to be obvious and simple!

Now, let me tell you that these 3 frameworks are no mean achievements. For example, BCG matrix made BCG famous and successful in those days. This even caused McKinsey & Co to take notice and start an intellectual revival of its own. At one point 46% of fortune 500 companies were using some version of the matrix!

The question

So, how do we reconcile the difference between the perception and the impact of strategy work/frameworks?

The answer

The answer lies in a psychological bias that I term as: IIT-question-syndrome (IITQS).

Indians who have prepared for IIT entrance exams would relate much better to this example. Think of M. L. Khanna — that Maths book that we all used to prepare for the exams. Often we would face a question in that guide that would totally stump us. We would get stuck for hours, without any progress. Then, we would cheat a bit and refer to the answer section that contained a small description of a clever way to solve the problem. Suddenly, it all looked so simpler and obvious to us!

The solution is always simple — esp. in case of Strategy. In finance, the solution is often analytically complex (e.g. a valuation model); but Strategy is always simple. Strategy is a conclusion, a synthesis. It has to be simple. It has to make common sense. But, it is that kind of simplicity that one only achieves after going through a lot of complexity (i.e. rational deliberation or intuition)!

Therefore, my view is that it is due to this cognitive bias (i.e. IITQS) that most people are not able to see the value in strategy assignments and frameworks.

A few more examples

IITQS is not just be limited to the field of Strategy alone. Upon hearing of Darwin’s theory of evolution, T. H. Huxley commented:

“How extremely stupid not to have thought of that.”

IITQS applies to Product Management as well:

The product choices — after they are made — all look very simple and obvious. Examples: Just think of the simplicity of products such as Whats App and In Shorts.

Conclusion

Lot of us suffer from IIT question syndrome. This makes us discount the value of works of strategy, etc.

This is a cognitive bias, and should be avoided!

Because, final solutions/syntheses are always simple. The real challenge lies in arriving at those simple solutions/syntheses!