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Strategy storyline or amorphous chaos?


2. huhtikuuta 2015


Patrik Anckar

Strategy has traditionally been connected to warfare and strategic work has often quoted famous war lords. In a similar way, strategy could be compared to movies and quotes could be taken from theater experts. Both in movies/plays and strategy, the storyline is the alpha and omega of everything. The storyline, or the plot, steers the course of the story. Based on the storyline, a causal series of actions or events is built, which then strengthens and mitigates the storytelling.

Reality is an amorphous chaos without a storyline. Already Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, pictured how a good storyline should be built. Coincidence will get an order, when a plot has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The events of the plot should causally relate to one another as being either necessary or probable. The story around the plot should be continuous, consistent and it should include an element of change. Gustav Freytag, the German writer, was on the same page as he considered plot a narrative structure dividing a story into five parts, like the five acts of a play. The parts he advocated were exposition of the situation, rising action through conflict, climax or turning point, falling action and resolution. This is very familiar stuff from a Hollywood perspective.

Hence, the storyline is key in movies, if we exclude adult movies. If a strategy without a storyline compares to cheap adult entertainment, then a plotful strategy has the potential to lead to more sustainable and romantic interaction.

The beginning is the, not always so rosy, starting point that the strategy is about to change or improve. In the beginning, strategic analyses are used to build a facts based framework for answering the questions where to go and how to get there. The middle is about implementation, how the strategic actions are taken and how the staff is embarking on the journey. The end is the vision coming true, that is, the organization reaching its destination. The storyline ties the beginning, the middle and the end to a meaningful whole.

The exposition can, for instance, describe the changes in the operational environment and the consequent challenges. One has to change. The rising action shows how the situation is taken into control with strategic action and how the process is going forward. The climax is the strategic vision and its depiction by a slogan and a visual reference. The turning point comes when a challenge or complication is solved, the story is understood and an inspirational change is induced. The falling point is the implementation of the strategy with all the target setting, follow-up, control, empowerment and communication. The resolution is the visible change that the story leads to, that is, the commercial realization of the planned storyline.

In other words, the strategist creates a manuscript, which storyline is based on demand (what sells) and differentiation from the mass. The manuscript takes into account that the plot, the structure of the story, and the storytelling are inseparable, they have to reflect each other. The storyline is at its best when it is verbally and visually simple. The leader directs according to the manuscript, casts the story with the right people, sets the actions in the right place and time, and makes sure that the story is told in a compelling and understandable manner. Every story would be different, if its plot, cast, and actions would be placed in another organization or time. At the premiere or opening the play is introduced to the staff and other stake holders. Both strategists and movie makers know they have succeeded if they receive a standing ovation. That could entail the birth of a block buster.

Instead of using war spectacles and thinking of how to guard positions or crush competition, the strategist could take the director’s seat and ponder what kind of story sells and what kind of story the audience (customers and employees) can identify with. If nothing else, even a good war movie needs a plot. This blog was intended to describe how we work and why we invest in our customers’ storylines. Please be in touch and we will together tailor good plays for your audience.


Patrik Anckar

Strategy & Development