Articulating Strategy

Seventeen years ago, my wife and I bought our first house. The vendor was an apparently successful electrician, but the wiring we inherited from him was disastrously unsafe. We probably should not have been surprised: the idea of doing something well for others but not for yourself is a common pattern of human behaviour, from Luke 4:23 to the proverb of the cobbler’s shoes. It came to mind again this week working with a client on a strategy review. We had a useful conversation about the mission, vision and values of the client’s organisation based on David Collis and Michael G. Rukstad’s classic HBR piece on articulating strategy, and it occurred to me that despite recommending this sort of discussion to others, I hadn’t really considered how those things applied to Outside Context since deciding to set up the business. It was a good prompt to step back and think about what the business does based on recent experience. Afterwards I identified something that must have been in my subconscious mind: although the business is only seven months old, it was a year ago yesterday that I last spent a day in the office at my previous role. So perhaps a natural time for introspection and reviewing progress.

That thought reminded me of a second anniversary this week: today is a year since I got on an aeroplane, and probably the longest gap between flights in more than twenty years. Of course, what seems different to me is also far better for the planet, and the last year has shown it is possible to work remotely with people around the world — to the extent that it is hard for to imagine things reverting quickly to the status quo ante. But I miss travelling.

I also finished my second book of the year. Last week I started reading Mariana Mazzucato’s new book Mission Economy but ended up putting it aside this week when my preorder of Elliot Higgins’s We Are Bellingcat arrived: I read it over a couple of days and found it completely fascinating, in particular the section on identifying the suspects in the Salisbury poisonings given the local connection. More generally, I was really interested in the discussion of open source intelligence (OSINT). Early in the book there’s a comment from an American official that 90% of useful information used to be based on secret sources: since the advent of social media, 90% of valuable intelligence comes from open sources. Having spent several hours this week looking at industry research online, it got me thinking about how much that applies to the business world if you switch secret for proprietary or paywalled. There are great open resources like Companies House and Open Corporates. But I’m now intrigued by the idea of something that is to industry research what Bellingcat is to intelligence or investigative journalism, where it would be similar, and what the differences in model would be.

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