Strategist: You Have To Earn That Title

Because many self-proclaimed strategists aren’t


(This was sparked by @sherifsalti’s piece about the proliferation of unqualified designers)

“Digital Strategist” has been one of those titles for a while: it seems to be popping up everywhere, anyone can lay claim to it, and there’s no unified definition of it.

I’ve worked as a digital strategy consultant for the past 4 years. Here are a few clues I look for to tell me if someone has strategist DNA.


You understand what strategy is

Strategy is not planning. It is not tactics. It is the practice of figuring out how to get from point A to point B. Digital strategy is not social media, it’s not making websites/apps/banners, and it’s not IT. It’s the practice of figuring out how to get from point A to point B — because digital is ubiquitous by now, digital strategy is just strategy. It’s about identifying and realizing opportunities for digital technology to create competitive advantage, sometimes going as far as transforming organizations from the inside out.


You are a systems thinker

A strategist can see the big picture.

A strategist can identify the parts of a larger system, and how those parts should work together, to make a strategy successful.

A strategist can identify where to apply force in a system for impact.

A strategist understands that feedback loops are important, and knows how to find them or otherwise incorporate them into their work.


You’ve been in the trenches

You can only evaluate the success of a strategy if you execute said strategy; thus, a strategist has been through the process of identifying, articulating, selling through, realizing and evaluating a strategy at least once, with measurable outcomes that align with or surpass the strategic objectives.


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Thanks to Derrick Bradley, Johanna Beyenbach and Mike Arauz for reading drafts of this.