Strategy is not an Event, it is a Perspective


By John Barrington

We recently visited the outstanding Picasso to Warhol exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia and marvelled at not only the exhibits on display, but also the fact that Perth is the only city in which this collection will be displayed. Not only that, but it is the first of a further five exhibitions that will come to Perth from the Museum of Modern Art in New York over the next 3 years.

One exhibit, Matisse’s Jeannette I-V caught my attention. Jeannette I is a lifelike representation of his sitter and the second piece, Jeannette II, was an extension of the first. But over the course of a number of years, Matisse was to radically transform the traditional view of the representation of the human face. In 1908, Matisse said, “it is not about the lifelike imitation, it is about extracting the essential qualities of the sitter”. Jeannette V is an almost cubic abstract and for Matisse, it distilled the essential qualities as he perceived them.

I might be drawing a long bow here, but I think strategy development is somewhat similar. It has to reflect reality by being fact-based. But it cannot attempt to reflect all the realities of organisational life. Jeannette I, Matisse’s first representation, did do that and, I assume, faithfully. But perhaps the essence of the character was hidden.

In a similar way, if strategy attempts to deal with every operational and tactical matter, as well as strategic, one runs the risk of documenting a hotch-potch of activities, priorities, distractions and, worst of all, investments that will not truly deliver long-run strategic performance.

Rather, the strategy process should be akin to reducing a Red Wine jus on the hob. The essential flavours are enhanced by simmering the natural juices over time. Similarly, strategy cannot be bundled into a 1 or 2 day annual retreat, quickly cooked up, consumed and forgotten. Rather, it is an enduring process in which a board and executive team must engage over the course of the year and years. It is about perspective and having the ability to reduce myriad organisational issues down to the few that will make a real difference.

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