Malcom Gladwell, in his new book Talking to Strangers, discusses the misunderstandings that arise when what you say isn’t what you mean.

For an aspirational business leader, this can easily be resolved with some clarity of purpose (remember ‘purpose’? It’s that elusive thing brands must maintain to ensure they resonate with customers). Only last month, we were trying to decide what Emotional Quotient meant to us; now there’s a new kid on the block asking for definition.

With specific attention to innovation and product planning, your policy may say something like “Our purpose is to make a difference by giving people innovative solutions for ….” But how?

What strategic steps will you take and what strategic position will you arrive at?

Some definitions:

Policy (noun) – a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organisation or individual.

Strategy (noun) – a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.

See the difference? Policy is a general statement that no-one can really follow because it doesn’t tell them what to do – just what to believe. A bit like blind faith.

Strategy, on the other hand, is descriptive. It tells you that there is a target, an intent and a plan.

Lots of companies have a policy document or a mission statement.

Fewer have a product strategy that knows what its customers want to see it do – now and next. Why? Because a strategy must be specific and measurable, and it can be hard to know what to be, when everything around us is changing all the time. So, instead of making a decision and acting with intent, business leaders hedge their bets and do nothing, waiting for the next big idea to strike.

Anyway, back to Malcolm.

Don’t fall into the trap of being vague. Say what you want your teams to do. Company staff need to be told what is expected of them and the overarching purpose: why are we being asked to do something, where will it take us, and how can I make a difference?

Put this in place and all manner of intangible efficiencies start to open up: elephants vanish from rooms and black swans appear all over the place.

Telling your staff and customers what you plan to be in the future, and how they can help you achieve it, is a strategic action. It supports the policy and it means you have thought long and hard about it, removing the need for any lingering blind faith.

You can get really hung up on ‘purpose’, but in the interests of business survival it’s always better to have one than not. Working on an innovation or product strategy is a great way to start.

If we can be helpful to you, let’s talk. Here’s my diary.

Future thinking. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.

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