The difference between great strategists and average ones.


This post was originally published on August 23, 2013 on

There was a great article on today entitled “3 Secrets To Designing Great Toys, From LeapFrog and Ideo” about some lessons those two companies learned about designing experiences for kids.

While the whole article is full of interesting observations and learning (and worth the read), the thing that really struck a chord with me was the fact that a couple of initial observations started the whole project. As Brendan Boyle, the head of the Toy Lab at IDEO describes it in the article “we saw this insight where moms were handing kids their smartphones in the car and grocery store,” and that “kids want to do what their parents are doing. They see their parents taking pictures and love that.”

For one this rings true with every parent. Also, it would have been so easy to dismiss these insights as just another thought that crossed the team’s mind.

The bigger point for me is that in an age where everything is measurable, from your body activity to your web surfing behavior and “big data” profiles itself as the new Eldorado of marketing, being able to identify this one “fact” in the sea of data, opinions and hypothesis that surrounds us, crystallizing it, using it as the foundation for a big idea and “selling it through” one or several organizations are the true marks of a brilliant strategist.

It’s easy to look at the latest Internet trends, capture them in a deck, sprinkle a few cool new terms in and present them as the future of marketing (until the following month where all these trends and cool terms will have to be updated). It’s easy to hide behind a mountain of data to justify why something should not be done or is not a good idea. And it is easy to use data points that don’t provide the whole picture (hello web analytics) to argue against an intuition that can often not be supported by data (usually the sign of a really great or really stupid idea).

This ability is even more important yet challenged in an environment where every constituent and key stakeholder has an opinion or hypothesis on what the problem is and what the solution should be. While these hypothesis and the conversations leading to them are an important step in the solution finding process, the challenge is often to prioritize and to focus on this one hypothesis that will make an actual difference, weed out the meaningful from the futile and convince others that this is the one to validate and move forward with.

This notion of identifying this one insight in a sea of data and facts, reducing the thinking to the most essential element and leaving everything else out is really not new. It has been accepted as essential in the account planning community for decades. But it has also become increasingly difficult to do, which makes it an even more valuable and essential skill to achieve strategic brilliance. And it is, in my humble opinion, what separates the great strategists from the average ones.

Let me know if you agree or disagree.

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