Strategy and yoga

The game of chess is often rolled out as being useful for strategic thinking.

The chess requirement to think ahead and manage decisions on multiple fronts is valuable for strategists.

But the practice of yoga is more apt as both metaphor and training.

Chess masters can get obsessed with winning and losing, making it a zero sum game.

Yogi’s on the other hand spend their time challenging their awareness. Finding ways to continually improve. The winners in yoga are those who do the practice. Pushing the limits over and over again.

In the process we get to know ourselves. It is hard to be biased about our yogic abilities when we have to face them on the mat, in all their glory.

Strategists could learn from yoga that daily practice, awareness, learning and incremental improvements are more important than a fascination on competition and winning.

We can also think about Yoga as much as we want, but if we do not do the practice, nothing happens.

And the reward lies in reflection. Looking back on where we have come from provides the motivation to keep pushing the limits.

Thanks to Jarvis and the YogaSpirit team for giving me a magical place to practice and, without knowing it, the inspiration to make this connection.

Jim Harrington, world renowned Yogi showing Vashista-Padangusta on Table Mountain with Lions Head in the background

Image source: Jim Harrington Yoga

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Slowly and suddenly

Real change happens like this doesn’t it? Slowly and then suddenly. 

Particularly when we set off on a significant new direction. The type of personal change where we fundamentally shift our outlook and start behaving in a different way. Or maybe we no longer accept something which we have accepted for a long time.

When we look back on our lives and are amazed at how we were previously, we know we have made a big change. 

However we seldom, if ever, notice the day when things are different.

On reflection, we look back, and say something like, ‘I can’t believe I used to think/be/behave like that’.

And yet looking forward, we often long for the day when something will change.

Here is the bad news.

Even if significant change happens, it is unlikely that you notice on the day it does.

Leading up to the change it feels like it is taking for ever or will never happen.

Only when we have made the change and look back on it, can we see the point where things suddenly changed.  

Leading up to the change it feels like it is taking for ever. Only when we have made the change and look back on it, can we see the point where things suddenly changed.

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The essence of a strategy

The essence of your strategy is contained in these four questions.

The first three set your direction and without the fourth we all struggle to keep up momentum and stay on track.

  1. Where will we be three years from now?
  2. What are we going to stop doing to get there?
  3. Once those things are stopped, what is left over that is really important?
  4. Why are we doing all this anyway? 

Use your strategy to make decisions and do your planning. Tell others about it and check that you understand each other.

Measure your progress towards it and constantly review that where you are heading is in line with where you want to be. 

Most importantly, don’t stray to far from #4.

Finding your way with essential strategic thinking










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Great questions

The best questions are those that don’t have an answer.

If the question is all over with a quick answer consisting of a word or two then we have missed the opportunity to ask a great question. Great questions allow us to grapple with big ideas. Ideas that make a difference. Complex and strategic ideas.

Great questions can change everything. They get us to reconsider, to ponder and to grapple with our existing thoughts. They can be the small lever that makes a big change in how we approach our challenges. 

They sometimes make us feel uneasy, they could even be unsettling.

In the end though, a great question will always come through, delivering rich and useful insights.

Pondering great questions can change everything

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Newspaper’s opaque purpose

Newspapers do not care as much about the news as we like to think.

Their core purpose is to sell newspapers rather than writing the best news stories.

Could it be that when a newspaper runs a headline that says,

“Thousands killed in Bangladesh. Pictures”

it is aiming to grab our attention in the same way as we slow down to have a good look while driving past a motor accident?

By reporting about disasters or looming disasters, papers tap into an anxiety which we ease when we buy the paper to find out more.

Either that or we make ourselves feel slightly better by conforming that someone else is worse off than us.

Or the third is selling the ideal, lifestyles of the rich and famous, so we can dream how it might be to be like them.

These emotional triggers complemented with offers such as,

“Hate your boss. Find a new job today”

when the weekly career supplement is published or,

“Win millions in jackpot”

all tap in to the newspaper’s core purpose. Sell more.

Newspapers will argue that they give their readers what they want but if that was the case the industry wouldn’t be declining as per the infographic below. An ever declining pool of newspaper readers is getting older every year and not being replaced by younger readers.

Papers and publishing are filled with conflicts such as balancing editorial vs advertising vs paid for editorial. Tricky areas to navigate as the world becomes more transparent.

That slightly uneasy feeling we get having just completed a newspaper and wondering, “is that it?”, is indicative of the gap between the actual purpose and the espoused purpose of newspapers. This incongruence is what is leading to the decline in the industry.

As we become more connected, we are ever more demanding that when we are the customer our purpose is aligned with that of the people we buy from.

If not, we will quickly uncover a better option and take advantage of it.

The Decline of Newspapers– An infographic by the team at Clickinks


Newspaper headlines are designed to sell newspapers not report the news










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How not to have a meeting

“I can’t wait for the next meeting, this is so exciting”

If you have ever heard someone say that then you are very rare. 

“Wasted time in meetings costs the UK economy £26 billion”

This was the headline of a 2012 piece of research from Epson supported by Cebr (source:

Other facts that it revealed were:

  • 2 hours 39 minutes: the number of hours workers feel are wasted in meetings during an average week
  • 49 minutes: the number of wasted minutes in meetings not made up for later
  • 10 hours or over: the amount of time one in five senior managers and directors say they spend in meetings per week
  • 11 minutes: the average amount of time it takes for people’s attention to drift in a meeting
  • Respondents thought that an average of 20 minutes was wasted in every meeting they attended 

I read once that the ego of a person calling a meeting dictates the number of people invited.

We would all agree that ideally a meeting leaves the participants with more energy, clarity and enthusiasm for what needs to be done than when they walked in.

So why then are they so incredibly painful for most companies?  

Mostly what happens with meetings is that they take place for no other reason than they always have. 

They are used like a blunt object supposedly to achieve a wide array of disparate ends. 

  • Let’s get everyone aligned. We’ll have a meeting.
  • We need to solve this issue, let’s have a meeting.
  • Let’s get it all out in the open so we can deal with it, let’s have a meeting.
  • This change affects everyone, we should meet.
  • Let’s plan to meet in three weeks and take it forward.
  • Should we set up a series of meetings to move this forward?
  • You have a meeting and let me know the outcome
  • And a hundred other reasons people call meetings (what are your favourite lame reasons?).
We have become like corporate zombies going through repeated motions because it has become habit. We have not stopped and thought more strategically about how to get things done. 
To avoid meetings ask yourself or your group the following questions.
  • What is it we want to achieve?
  • Why do we want to do this?
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • What is the best way of involving these people?
  • If a meeting has been suggested, are there alternatives other than a meeting that will be effective?
Following this process eliminates most meetings and moves you forward faster.
If you find yourself staring down the face of an unavoidable meeting, here is a way to ensure that the meeting works better than most. 
  1. Take leadership of the meeting even if you are not the person calling it. Work through the above questions to quickly get focused. 
  2. Decide how much time is needed (it is seldom an hour as Outlook or Google Calendar suggests by default).
  3. Make sure each person arrives at the meeting with their contribution prepared.
  4. If you need more than 30 minutes then most likely you haven’t done 1, 2 and 3 thoroughly enough
  5. Pick a facilitator for the meeting who is not involved in the content. Make it her responsibility to finish on time.
  6. Keep a list of off topic items to be picked up outside of the meeting and don’t get pulled down a rabbit hole when they come up.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon starts every meeting with his executives reading six page memos from each area. His belief, is that the communal reading guarantees undivided attention and by forcing his execs to write down their memo in narrative form , they have to think carefully about what they want to say. This is great practice and will certainly result in more focused and reduced meeting time. 

Wasting time in meetings







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It’s always more complex

At the start of a new project we are always unrealistic about what needs to be done.

The reason for this is that we cannot think about all the steps that are required to create our new offering. The gap between the theoretical project and the actual project is always bigger than we think, and more complex.

Much of the complexity is caused by too much activity or information. When we think strategically about our project we can simplify things by forcing our thinking into a sharp yet detailed picture of the future. This way we focus our minds and keep unneeded items out of the way.

A tool like can help you to sharpen your thinking. By answering a few open questions about what you want, you are quickly presented with a strategy that makes sense to all involved.

If you ask your partners to also complete a 1strategy, in a few minutes you can check that you are all on the same page.

1strategy net to create your strategy on one page





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Be prepared to be wrong

Thinking strategically is about being right about the future, right?

Actually not.

Striving to be right is the biggest blind spot of many strategists. Believing that we can correctly see what lies ahead, we tap into a number of our biases. Overconfidence, anchoring, illusion of control and the Texas sharpshooter fallacy all pull us away from the rational view of the future.

There are more biases but the above should be enough to caution us to expect to falter at least some of the time.

Good strategists always consider being wrong and avoid the temptation of believing too much in their strategies. Paradoxically this makes the strategies better.

Building in scenarios helps us to not be wrong. This is different from being right.

And if you are feeling a little infallible then consider that you would be in good company should you get your strategy wrong:

“The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”
– Clifford Stoll, American author, 1995

“I think it will grow but the vast majority of customers in the foreseeable future will continue to prefer a good, old-fashioned printed and bound book.”
– George Jones, CEO of Borders Group, 2008

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
– Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of the Board of IBM, 1943

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”
– Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929

“Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.”
– Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1889

“How, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you, excuse me, I have not the time to listen to such nonsense.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte, when told of Robert Fulton’s steamboat, 1800s.

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.”
– Albert Einstein, 1932

Einstein working on the theory of relativity













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A test of your rational thinking

Here is a simple puzzle. Answer it as you are reading without stopping to analyse it. 

A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

If you followed the instruction you are likely to have come up with the answer of ten cents.

There are no tricks here. This exercise from Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow is a classic example of our fast brain at work. It sees the answer immediately and makes it available to us.

Our slow brain on the other hand takes much longer to reach an answer and is suited for more complex topics.

2 x 2 is a fast brain problem and you can reach the answer of 4 with no effort at all.

17 x 24 on the other hand produces no immediate response and requires our slow brain to engage and figure out the answer.

The challenge which we all face is that our slow brain needs to ask the fast brain to engage and if it thinks it has the answer it jumps in.

In the bat and ball example above, the lure of jumping in was just too much because the answer was so obvious.

Unfortunately the obvious answer was also wrong as the correct answer is in fact $1.05, an answer which requires the slow brain.

Our fast brain is responsible, at least part of the time for jumping to quick irrational answers which the slow brain would figure out, if only we gave it a chance.

Strategic thinking is typically a slow brain activity.

Daniel Kahneman's book thinking fast and slow








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Two types of learning

In the one type of learning we get exposed to some facts and we need to repeat them back to prove we know them.

This is useful for an ever decreasing number of activities.

In the past we would value someone who could repeat a lot of facts.

Today recognition has moved to the person who can synthesise a lot of facts and make sense of them. We no longer need to remember any fact because they are all only a Google away.

Synthesis is a different type of learning and is required today even for young children.

Think back to what you learned at school. What can you recall? Maybe a handful of the thousands of facts that you knew at the time of your tests and exams.

More valuable than the facts are the techniques you learned for finding the facts and for relating facts to real world applications. This is synthesis.

Remembering facts requires you to have a good memory.

Thinking strategically requires you to be good at synthesis.

If you re-read the first sentence it really sounds preposterous doesn’t it?

Synthesis learning













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