What Strategy & the Contra Code Have in Common

Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start. Select, then start for two-player.

My generation knows this formula like the back of their hands.  The Contra Code on the original Nintendo.  If you keyed in the Contra Code at the beginning of the game, you added 30 lives and winning just got a lot easier.

Unfortunately, many clients view Strategy like the Contra Code. We’ll get the smart guys in the room, have them scribble on the white board for a while, mind map the output into groups of yellow, green, and pink Post-Its, generate a 2×2 framework, and then give them the roadmap to greatness.  A + B will inherently = C.

Nope.

Unfortunately, they’re forgetting that once you got the 30 lives, you still had to play the game.  And if you didn’t know how to play the game, you could lose the 30 lives in less time than it took you to punch in the code.  Well, maybe not that quickly, but it would be a painful slog to a bad ending to that game.

Used correctly, strategy can be a code; but don’t hire an agency that’s charging you for strategy unless you can and are ready to execute on it.  Here are a few rules to judge strategy.

1. Strategy should always focus the enterprise around your core mission.

2. Strategy should always illuminate how you play your game; and it should strengthen your competitive advantage and reduce your exposure to the pitfalls that wreck so many of your competitors.

3. Strategy should always impact the bottom line.  As Marvin Bower built McKinsey & Co into the world’s leading consulting firm, the question he used to evaluate every project was “what is the impact?”  If the consultant could not identify the impact, then he had not done his job.

At the end of the day, you (the client) should always own the strategy.  If you’re not ready to listen or implement, don’t sign up for the extra 30 lives.  You’re wasting your time & money.

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