How to be Strategic

Julie Zhuo
Oct 2, 2018 · 7 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Photo by GotCredit
  • “Thinking outside the box” to come up with new ideas.
  • Working harder and motivating others to work harder.
  • Writing long docs.
  • Creating frameworks.
  • Drawing graphs on a whiteboard

So what is strategy?

Basically, a strategy is a set of actions designed to achieve a particular objective. It’s like a route designed to get you from Point A to Point B. A more interesting question is “what makes for a good strategy?” And for that, I subscribe to Richard Rumelt’s definition: a good strategy is a set of actions that is credible, coherent and focused on overcoming the biggest hurdle(s) in achieving a particular objective.

  • set of actions: there should be a concrete plan.
  • credible and coherent: the plan should make sense and believably accomplish the objective. There should not be conflicting pieces of the plan.
  • focused on overcoming the biggest hurdle(s): there should be a clear diagnosis of the biggest problem(s) to be solved, and the plan should focus resources towards overcoming those hurdles.
  • Coming up with new feature ideas: if you don’t know the problem you’re trying to solve, it doesn’t help to brainstorm a bunch of solutions. This is like blurting out an answer on Jeopardy before you’ve heard the question.
  • Working harder and motivating others to work harder. Working hard is great, but don’t confuse motion for progress. Assuming that working harder is the answer to winning is like assuming thoughts and prayers can solve climate change.
  • Writing long docs: could be strategic, but depends on the content. Beware of long, sprawling epics. Good strategies are usually simple, because executing a highly complex plan across dozens or hundreds of people tends to not work well.
  • Creating frameworks: frameworks can help explain concepts, but they are not a plan. Having good frameworks is like having a clear map. You still need to chart a path.
  • Drawing graphs on the whiteboard. May look impressive but is probably classic bad strategy: a lot of jargon and fluff, a lack of real substance.

1) Create alignment around what wild success looks like.

This is self-explanatory, but hard to do in practice. As a litmus test, ask yourself this: Imagine your team is wildly successful in 3 years. What does that look like? Write down your answer. Now, turn to your neighbor and ask him or her the same question. When you compare your answers, how similar or different are they?

2) Understand which problem you’re looking to solve for which group of people.

Imagine, for kicks, that you’re looking to “transform the future of transportation.” What should you do?

  • Understanding which problems suit your unique strengths and weaknesses. You can’t solve every problem equally well, so what problems can you solve better than anyone else? What are you or your team really good at, and what are your weaknesses?

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. — The Art of War

3) Prioritize. And cut.

Prioritizing is super hard because most of us hate saying no.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” — Steve Jobs

If you’re interested in reading more about the topic, I highly recommend Richard Rumelt’s book Good Strategy, Bad Strategy. Tons of great examples from the military and corporate world.


The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building…

Julie Zhuo

Written by

Currently: Inspirit. Former Product Design VP @ FB. Author of The Making of a Manager https://amzn.to/2PRwCyW. Find me @joulee. I love people, words, and food.

The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.

Julie Zhuo

Written by

Currently: Inspirit. Former Product Design VP @ FB. Author of The Making of a Manager https://amzn.to/2PRwCyW. Find me @joulee. I love people, words, and food.

The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store