Do you Have What it Takes to be a Strategist?

Do you Have What it Takes to be a Strategist? post image

“Success has always been a great liar.” -Nietzsche

Do you ever think the most powerful ideas are often the ones that are hidden from you?

It’s true. There are secrets to success. They are hidden everywhere, and the most incredible people around us weave them together in the most unlikely ways. You won’t read a lot about it on blogs. They often depend on secrecy. They are singular, special ideas. They are often terribly specific.

That’s probably why most business blogs default to: “rah rah rah rah rah get moving!”

I’m cool with a good rah, but behind the scenes of any success, there are forces at play that can be more powerful.

How you recognize and manipulate these factors is called strategy. Somebody who excels at arranging them in her favor is a strategist.

People suck at strategy. We aren’t wired for it. That’s your opportunity.

I feel like I have a good nose for winners and losers– and most of us do. You know when somebody tells you about their plans you can pretty much be like “yep!” or “nope!” in your head?

That part is easy. Most of us can do that.

Here’s the hard part. Could you say or do something with that person that would change a ‘nope’ into a ‘yep’?

Got it in you?

If so, you’re sitting on a goldmine.

Do you have what it takes to be a strategist?

If you want to kick ass at business, and aren’t sitting on a huge asset, it might make sense to start flexing your strategy muscles. Becoming a strategist can be an excellent route for people struggling with some of the more stock online business advice: “work hard, be consistent, start a brand, do your passion.”

Being a strategist isn’t right for most people. I’ve noticed certain traits that allow people to excel at strategic maneuvering:

  1. Excellent at consuming and criticizing information. To a an excellent strategist, you need to have better information that those you are competing against. It’s an absolute must that you love to consume massive amounts of information and be excellent at how to determine its relevance.
  2. Having a wide variety of rapidly changing interests (insanely curious). I am still often surprised at how poor academics (generally) are with strategic maneuvering given the amount of information they’ve consumed in their lifetime. The trend I see, in general, is that the broader your range of interests the more likely you are to be a good strategist. This also has a lot of practical applications. Ever hear the one about the calligraphy course that influenced the fonts on the Macintosh? Having a broad range of intersts also makes you more interesting, which contributes to another important trait of a strategist…
  3. Seductive. You can’t be a strategist in a bubble. Eventually, you’ll need to move some pieces around the board, and that means getting people passionate about your ideas and projects or otherwise controlling them.
  4. Amoral. Strategists are predisposed to analyze, not judge. Being amoral doesn’t mean you run around slinging insults at folks. Amoral people aren’t “uptight.” They feel comfortable learning about and exploring commonly considered deviant activities, and are more likely to see the learning opportunity than to take offense. If you feel you are a hyper moral person, consider that you might be using your morals as a way to protect yourself from certain kinds of information. This is not a good approach for a strategist, who could put that information to good use. Being dedicated to morals is different than being dedicated to tastes, but that’s a whole blog post.
  5. Brave. You’ll hang back most of the time, gathering information, but you’ll need to know the right time to execute your plan. When you do, it’ll be difficult and you’ll need to step up.
  6. Confident. In both your vision and your direction. Strategists appear to lose much more than they win. They appear to give much more than they receive. People who are insecure about their person or their vision demand constant victory. Constant affirmation. To win the big battles, you’ll need to be the one offering affirmation, and putting off your own victories until it counts.

Interested? Here’s some starter reading with people smarter than myself…..

Have a great weekend! :) A special shout to those of you who don’t even know its the weekend :D

Cheers from San Diego,


@TropicalMBA <– My strategy is to tweet all day long!

PS, for those interested my travel schedule looks like this:

  • Currently in San Diego, CA
  • March 1-6 Southern Florida
  • March 11-15 SXSW Austin, TX
  • March 20– ? Manila, Philippines
  • April 1st – Bali, Indonesia

PPS, we are currently working on the next round of  offers for TMBA interns, I’ll have some info on that in February.

PPPS, I like making videos…..

Published on 02.03.11
  • Thanks Dan; I think this is one of your best posts. Succinct and pointed. And I am not just saying that because you cited me :) I especially like your characterization of the “rah rah rah rah rah get moving!” school of business blogging.

  • Dan

    Thanks Venkat. I’m pretty sure my headline writing still sucks. Live and learn :D

  • Very good post, thanks for the shout out. A few more resources –

    Have you read “Humans Are Not Automatically Strategic” by Anna Salamon? Excellent, excellent piece that I go back to once a month and re-review. Very good:

    Also, it’s not beach reading, but Carl von Clauswitz’s “On War” really, really teaches you how to think:

    I can’t recommend it highly enough – Clauswitz’s density of thought is extremely high. Clauswitz gets the high level analysis correct, which is rare – but even more rare, he gets what’s required of leaders correct. Rarely do you have someone ultra-pragmatic who also understands the human part of it – On War isn’t for most people, it takes some serious thinking. But your links here – analysis, game theory, strategy – make me think maybe you’d like Clauswitz a lot.

    Great post. Looking forward to learning more on Parrondo’s Paradox too.

  • Cracking Stuff,

    Strategy IS where the coin is at.
    And I’m really, really likeing the tone of your new vids, more of the same please.

  • Very nice. I think you nailed it, Dan.
    Would also say that one of the roles of the strategist is being a superior NO man. Sometimes it seems like being lazy and just not wanting to do more work, but it’s important to keep the boat headed in the right direction.
    Lovin the new videos as well!

  • Strategy is good. Implementation is better.

    Strategy happens in the war room. Implementation happens during war.

    “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” Too many people get smug self-satisfaction after doing hours of planning when they just need to implement :).

  • Dan

    This is interesting. I got some emails on this topic as well. When I think of very very very common strategic missteps I often think about people who chose the wrong battles, or the wrong implementations. Its also very common for people to lie to themselves about whats at stake or what game they are in. It makes me think rather than saying implementation is better than strategy I’d say they are inseparable. Although, I’d agree that implementation is better than strategy as advice to somebody who wants to get started. That’s to say “just get moving” is better than “think about it for a while.” I think information that comes from doing is better than info that comes from thinking.

    Ahem.. I think I’m thinking too much now…. I’m outa here!

  • Dan

    Yes.. um… I mean NO!

    I suck at saying no. I’m working on it.

    Also… thanks.

  • Dan

    Hehe. Okay cooking them up as we speak! :D

  • Dan

    Thanks for dropping by Sebastian, agreed on the article + less wrong is a great blog although terribly boring sometimes, I still check it regularly for updates. I’ve read Clauswitz on your suggestion and really enjoyed some of his basic principles although I didn’t walk away from it with any new marching orders. Looking forward to continuing to watch you has out new strategic ideas on your blog.

  • I’d disagree that implementation is better than strategy. At best, it is part of the strategy; at worst, it is the next step.

    Without strategy being first, what would you implement (you know, the root word of “implementation”)? Without it being more important, how good could the implementation possibly be?

    I think it might be better to say that implementing a strategy is better than just merely creating one, but I don’t think it is the lesser of the two.

  • Since I’ve already been contrary to others in the comments, thought I’d stick my head in here. :)

    I do like this post…a lot! The great thing about your writing is that it is not just pure theory; you are running a business and developing these ideas in the actual field! I’d agree that many people have a very difficult time creating strategy. Just “doing” isn’t enough. It has to be done right.

    In my “day job”, I help larger corporations develop strategies regarding how they utilize their data. I can tell you that I make my living doing that and it is a nice one.

    And yes, I’m a freak when it comes to consuming mass amounts of information! LOL

  • Dan

    Yeah I’m hip to this thinking, they are two angles to the same action or process. Like every implementation has an inherent strategy articulated or not. In that sense “no strategy” is one as well.

  • Dan

    Thanks David. Yeah and developing is the key phrase here, I can imagine thinking the opposite of a lot of the above or having a different take on it. These are just ideas I’m toying with and experimenting with. I really believe people are bad at recognizing the games they are playing and manipulating them to their benefit RE: the corps that you work with are probably often clueless on this front. I’m going to try and identify some useful thoughts in this direction on the blog.

    And yes, you are a freak info glutton. Please let me know if you need a testimonial.

  • Info glutton – YES! (As I sit with a mindmap open on my second screen…mapping data that I’ve read today. LOL)

  • how bout strategy is worthless without implementation & implementation without strategy can be foolish.

  • Change the last part to “action without strategy” and I’m on board. I still argue that implementation assumes you’re intentionally implementing something (making strategy necessary).

  • done.

  • A very interesting entry and I definitely agree with everything stated here on the six qualities of a strategist. I wonder if there’s a test out there which can determine how well of a strategist you are. A skills test just for strategists. Anyone know of any?

  • Good article. I’m looking forward to reading about Parrondo’s Paradox. Is there any test on how good of a strategist you are? I’m curious to know.

  • Dan

    Not sure of any. One for entrepreneurs might be, how much money do you make?

  • Rex

    On reflection, an affirmation to somehow test someone on their strategic skills, can only be a direct contradiction to building or sustaining real confidence.

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