Practical Strategy with Dr. Max McKeown
My guest this week on “Aim Higher” is Dr. Max McKeown, sometimes known simply as “Dr. Max.” He’s the author of several books including The Strategy Book. And he has one of the most straightforward definitions for one of the most complex topics out there: strategy. In our interview he said to me that strategy is simply, “The best way to use your available means to get to your most desirable ends.” That’s it. And it sounds, like most great wisdom, like basic common sense. But it’s one of those concepts that’s easy to say, but hard to live by. He said a second thing about strategy that’s also really self-evident, but that most people don’t seem to want to acknowledge either—that whether or not we can articulate a strategy, we have one.
“You have to provide a clear map that helps others to understand the big picture and do something about it.” – Dr. Max Mckeown
Isn’t it possible, you might ask, to not have a strategy? I’d argue, and I think Dr. Max would agree, that there’s no such thing. If you don’t do research? If you don’t study your environment and look at your goals and metrics? If you don’t apply some classic, tried-and-true strategic management tools—like the ones he outlines at the end of The Strategy Book—then your strategy is, by default, “stay-the-course.” You have defaulted to a “do nothing different” strategy. You have made a choice to not choose change.
5 Questions to Develop a Strategy
And maybe that’s OK. Maybe… But maybe you’re betting your career, your company or your entire future on a strategy that is actually just laziness. Which isn’t OK. If you do the work and it turns out that a strategy of stability is what you need? That’s great. If you look at the costs associated with a specific change and how other change strategies have failed in ways you aren’t ready to gamble on? Terrific. But as I said to Dr. Max, “Strategy needs to make things happen.” And his book is a great way to get a handle on real-world, practical activities to translate your goals into action. He breaks strategy down into five big questions:
- Where are we?
- Where do we want to go?
- What do we need to do?
- How do we need to do it?
- How do we measure progress?
I love these questions, because they don’t sound like MBA jargon. They sound like questions I can ask and answer any day of the week. Max’s work is all about boiling down complex issues into questions and tools like that. He emphasizes that we shouldn’t confuse the “form” of strategy—all the various complicated models—with the function of it. The “getting stuff done.” I totally agree. I hope you’ll listen to our talk, because that’s what we focus on.
Click here to listen to the Aim Higher podcast.
“The best way to use your available means to get to your most desirable ends.” -Max McKeown
“Being a great leader is about taking someone to a better place, including yourself.” – Dr. Max McKeown
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker
Photo Credit: Mark Fletcher-Brown