Better Conversations Generate Better Strategy

Conversations and strategyThere is strong evidence that conversation is ofttimes a turning point for strategy. Billy Beane’s conversation with Sandy Alderman pointed towards an unorthodox logic that evolved into the underpinnings of the Moneyball strategy. Lou Gerstner’s meeting with Dennie Welsh led to a “mind afire” realization that IBM’s future was a service-centric business model. It’s possible that a conversation between Christopher Columbus and his brother sparked the insight that a voyager could exploit the prevailing winds to sail west and the westerly winds to return.

The big idea of this chapter is that better-quality discourse can lead to better strategy. These three brief definitions provide an essential grounding:

  • Dialogue – The word dialogue (dia-logos: through the word) describes a high-quality conversation that provides a deeper understanding of mutual interests and specific issues that are important to the organization and its many stakeholders. Dialogue, in its purest form, is an open, ongoing, and ever-expanding exchange of ideas. This generates deep learning than can be valuable for mastering complex, emergent environments.
  • Deliberation – Deliberation builds upon dialogue with an emphasis on reaching a decision, such as when a jury deliberates to decide on guilt or innocence. Deliberation is the careful, unrushed consideration of the evidence, arguments, conclusions, and solutions being offered.
  • Dyad – A dyad is a two-person group. The examples in this chapter focus on temporary dyads, meeting for approximately 15-minutes duration. Each person comes to the conversation with her own perspective, which encompasses her assumptions, beliefs, and choices. Each has the opportunity to share her ideas with someone who is solely focused on listening.

The goal of dialogue and deliberation is to deepen and enrich the sharing of knowledge. They are tools that enables strategists to detect and resolve ambiguity, enhance people’s understanding of strategic issues, advocate for unorthodox ideas, test the validity of unconventional approaches, and gain agreement for tough decisions.

The benefits of dyads are they promote the sharing of first-person perspective about the strategic situation. Introverts often have high-quality ideas but are reluctant to share them with a larger group. A one-to-one discussion is easier. Too, complicated and nuanced ideas are difficult to articulate, and a good listener can help the speaker clarify her ideas. Dyads also avoid some of the social biases like group think and sunflower management.

.…The above is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of How to Think Strategically, available at all major booksellers. The book’s big idea is that strategic thinking is an individual competency that can be recognized and developed. As individuals steadily improve their capacity to think strategically, the organization gains potential to craft strategy that is good, powerful, effective, clever, and nuanced.

My only regret is that I didn’t have this book available for me as I was moving up the corporate ladder. It is insightful, thought-provoking and filled with actionable items to help customize your personal success.”
― Professor – customer review on Amazon

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.


About Greg Githens

Author, How to Think Strategically (2019) Executive and leadership coach. Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. Seminar leader and facilitator - high-impact results in crafting and delivering strategy, strategic initiatives, program management, innovation, project management, risk, and capturing customer requirements.
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