When You’re Presenting Strategy – Elegance Matters

The difference between Apple and PC is, in my opinion, design. The calligraphy class that Steve Jobs attended at Reed College added the degree of elegance to Apple’s products that have enabled it to position the PC as, well, so pc. Design does matter, as much in the world of intangible strategy as in the concrete world of the desktop computer.

The outcome (or deliverable) of a strategy is usually an implementation plan, so the content of a strategy is geared to the future. The success of the strategy depends very much on the outcomes achieved after it is implemented. For that reason, a strategy can never be proven to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ during its useful life. As a case study it can prove of immense value, but then it’s an historical case study and not a strategy. Until someone invents a time machine, a strategy provides the ways and means to achieve a future objective – proof only comes with time. Mathematicians refer to Pythagoras’ Theorem as a ‘beautiful’ proof. In this case it possesses not only beauty, but also truth. As we cannot know the future, strategy cannot possess truth – it has only the beauty component that allows it to resonate with its audience. It’s elegance.

How can strategy be elegant? That’s probably a matter of opinion, but once again the field of mathematics has formalized what elegance means for them (and they don’t have the advantage of using full colour imagery, even music, in their proofs – they are restricted to numbers and letters and squiggly things that only they know the meaning of). However, luckily for us, mathematics has defined what it means by describing a proof as beautiful:

  • It uses a minimum of previous results (i.e. data)
  • It is short
  • It derives a result in a surprising way
  • It is based on new and original insights
  • It can be easily generalized to solve a family of similar problems.

I feel that the following strategy is an elegant one, although many may not agree:

My good friend Max Blumberg and I decided (sometime during the 1980′s) to visit Sun City. We were both somewhat unusual, in that we would do unusual things. Such as sitting at a street cafe calling out ‘Michelle’ to every girl who walked by. Approximately 1 in 20 girls responded with great excitement that they had been recognized. Max was gifted at playing the piano. I was tone deaf. We were a formidable team.

There was a giant parking lot outside Sun City where day visitors were instructed to park. Max confidently drove up to the gate, and informed the guard that we had come to collect our instruments from the Lucas Mangope Room. The guard stated that we were not ‘on the list’. Max refused to back down. “But how are we supposed to get our equipment?” he exclaimed with so much urgency that the problem was clear to see. The guard then stated that we could drive in, but if he did not receive our registration details from the hotel, we would be in trouble. We agreed.

I did not understand what Max was doing, but it was to become abundantly clear when he parked outside the hotel, strode to the reception desk with a confident gait, and proclaimed to the pretty girl behind the counter: “Hi, I’m in room 5142 – I’m expecting some friends to join us for lunch, would you please be a darling and phone the gate to let this registration number in?”

We had a whale of a time in the casino. And we got to stay over when we were offered a room by a young lady whose friends had not arrived. So, we weren’t day visitors after all.

What an elegant strategy.

An effective strategy uses the minimum of data, is brief, has a fresh approach, has current insights and could be understood by a ten year old. That’s elegance.

When pitching for new business, the prospective client does not want to see that you have done your homework. They want to feel it. It’s so beautiful when the presenter proceeds straight to the heart of the matter with insight and sensitivity, so that the process can move forward, as opposed to wallowing in a sea of supposition further clouded by data which is as appealing as a soggy sand-filled bathing costume.