Strategic thinking: be decisive but keep an open mind
In life, there are only three decisions you need to get right – and one of them is where you live.
In a TV programme called Escape to the Country, couples are helped to move house from an urban to rural location. The format of the programme is simple:
- introduction to the location
- review of local house prices
- meet the ‘movers’
- see House One
- see House Two
- see House Three (the ‘mystery house’)
- discussion of preferred options
This is the ‘format’ and, in the TV world, there is crucial meaning behind that word.
Successful formats make production companies rich. Indeed, such are the fortunes made that ‘formats’ are precisely defined – and fiercely defended.
Escape to the Country contains two features which are crucial to its format.
One is that, after they have seen a house, our movers have a little competition between them to guess its market price. This is rather a meaningless task, as the presenter could just tell them, but it is essential to the format – a usp if you like. Pointless (sic) but valuable.
The ‘mystery house’ is also key. This is where our couple, having defined the sort of home they would like to move to, are shown a house that the programme makers know is outside the brief that has been provided.
In Escape to the Country, the presenter makes a huge issue of the mystery house. It helps the production company, in that dreadful phrase, make the format their own.
And it never ceases to surprise me how often our couple fall in love with the mystery house rather than the other options which more closely match their brief.
It is surprising because, as this is going to be their home, you would have thought they could work out what they want.
But no, in the mystery house, an outside perspective has helped them realise their own dreams.
What can we learn from this?
In my last post, I argued that a strategy is the simple definition, and careful analysis, of what one wants to achieve and how one is going to do it.
Yet, as this rather simple TV format shows, however hard one thinks through one’s strategy – and, perhaps, the closer one is to it – the greater the benefit of an objective perspective.
This is why, usually, external agencies are more successful than in-house teams.
For, however much you have researched your strategy, and however hard it has been to define what you want to achieve and how you are going to do it, it remains vital to listen to the views of others.
As evidenced by Escape to the Country, you can become so close to an issue that you can’t see the wood from the trees.