More on Micro Strategies

My blog post this week on CBS Money Watch focuses on how to use the micro strategy model to do what leaders and action heroes do, over and over again. The purpose of this supplemental blog post is to give the background on the roots of this model, offer a workaround for when you don’t have enough assets, and give two extended examples of how to use the repeated process to get to the world-class level.

Background on model
An important day in Tribal Leadership happened when my co-author John King and I met Robert Leonhard, author of The Art of Maneuver and an officer in the United States Army. Leonhard demonstrated the importance of thinking using a “ways-ends-means” analysis. John King and I were captivated, and John disappeared for weeks, in something resembling a scene from a Beautiful Mind—he drew on his whiteboard, and seemed to go days sketching and drawing, barely eating, and came out with an early form of what we came to term “micro strategies.”

I have always thought of that part of the CultureSync story as remarkable: inspired by a model John worked to adapt its genius to business and life. At its heart is the ways-ends-means analysis recast as a simple and robust planning tool that anyone could use. When he first showed it to me, sitting in his apartment in Marina del Rey, it had only outcomes-assets-behaviors. I said it’s missing its heart, and we added core values. The model then went from a management tool to a model that bridges leadership and management: showing how to make a vision implementable in small steps. It was a great triad between an expert (Robert Leonard), a creative thinker (John King), and an observer trained in leadership (me).

As the months progressed, we made several refinements in the model, and eventually, John and I took the model in slightly different directions.

For me, the tool became a way to change the world in “minimum viable steps,” which is similar to the agile approach to planning. (For more on the agile movement, listen to a “Mega MashUp call” I did with Dan Mezick, author of The Culture Game or Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup.) Also, I focus on specific actions, while John refers to larger behavioral groups of actions.

You can see a brief video outlining the micro strategy process here.

To find your core values (one of the pieces of the micro strategy model), download and work through the mountains and valleys exercise.

Ultimate workaround to a lack of assets
So what do you do if you don’t have nearly enough assets? Develop an “interim micro strategy.” Here are the steps:

First, identify the asset(s) that are missing, that if you had, would allow you to say “yes” to the first test question (“do you have enough assets to get to the outcome?”).

Second create a new “interim” micro strategy, with the same core values and assets as on your original model. For outcomes, list the assets you said are missing. Then go through the steps in outlined in the CBS MoneyWatch blog post.

Third, implement your interim micro strategy. When you’re done, you will have the missing assets.

Using assets to change the world
Two stories to illustrate the point. In about 2006, John King, Jack Bennett (CultureSync’s COO) and I went to Palm Springs and outlined an ambitious outcome: get a book on the New York Times bestseller list. We were missing three assets: an agent, a publisher, and a written book. We took these one at a time, creating three interim micro strategies. The first was to get an agent who would represent Tribal Leadership. As anyone who has ever heard me describe Bonnie Solow, you know that we didn’t just get a good agent, we got a world class agent who is a trusted advisor and a loyal friend.

With her help, we obtained a publisher. The publisher assigned us an editor who helped us write the book. But in the end, the hardcover failed to hit the New York Times bestseller list.

For the next book that I coauthored (The Three Laws of Performance), we again set the New York Times as the outcome, and again, didn’t hit it. USA Today, Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller lists were good runners-up. But we failed in our micro strategy.

My CultureSync colleagues and I learned from the experience, in what Eric Ries would call “actionable knowledge” (knowledge that allows one to achieve what was impossible before). We analyzed what happened in both cases, and knew how to organize a campaign that would hit the New York Times list, or at least give it the best shot we could. In June, the paperback edition of Tribal Leadership was published—and hit #1 on The New York Times.

We will always be indebted to Robert Leonhard’s original insights, and graciousness of time, to teach us. I will always be indebted to John King for doing the hard work of transforming a military sciences model to business, and his openness to adding core values, and making smaller changes to refine and streamline the model.

Now, how did Winston Churchill become a hero, politician, and eventually, prime minister? Several biographers argue that Churchill had a life-long goal of becoming a person of historical importance, and there is some argument that the entire imprisonment was planned. True or not, Churchill went through the micro strategy model three times to escape back to the UK. (Unless he had a time machine, he didn’t have the micro strategy model, but as a student of history, and a military-minded individual, he knew the principles of a ways-ends-means analysis.)

The headliner from this point to the end of his career was this: every time he used the micro strategy model, he amassed another asset, that he then used to achieve what was previously impossible. When he returned to the UK, he was famous, and labeled a hero. His asset list now included those newly won resources (“fame” and “hero”). He used those to successfully assume a dual role: military officer and war correspondent.

Years later, Churchill was out of power in what he called “the Wilderness Years.” He used his free time to write a biography of John Churchill (one of his ancestors) and A History of the English Speaking Peoples. More importantly, he used his fame to write cautionary articles about Hitler, who he believed was planning a European military campaign. He was also critical of the elected leaders of the United Kingdom who were trying to pacify the dictator. His articles were widely read (“famous author” was now an asset), and attracted the attention of people within the UK intelligence services who had the same view of Hitler as Churchill had, and many supplied him with secret information (leading to another asset: “insider information about Hitler”) that the future prime minister published in his articles. The more he wrote, the more famous (and well paid) he became, and the more he attacked Hitler, the more assets he received from the intelligence services.

If you take nothing more from this blog post, make it this: genius leaders create positive feedback loops on assets: each asset is used (through a micro strategy) in a way that develops more assets, and are then used to develop even more assets. Rinse and repeat.

When Hitler invaded Poland, Churchill had devastating new assets: an accurate prediction that Hitler was planning a European conquest, and a reputation of being right. And as anyone who knows the history of World War II, that victory was more bitter than sweet for Churchill. Although he soon became prime minister, he led a military that was years behind the Nazis in preparation and planning.

The story of Churchill during World War II was of assets used one after another, and included breaking the Nazi code, the alliance with Roosevelt, and using his speaking and writing abilities to keep the morale of the British people from crumbling.

One side-note of Churchill’s story was that the UK developed an interim strategy to break the Nazi code. The asset that was missing was the creation of the Colossus computer, the fist electronic, programmable digital computer.

A fun and low risk way to learn about micro strategies is to take scenes from pop culture and apply the model, much like PlushMoney Impact, a group of young women who want to “to come away with the inspiration and practical knowledge to make a real impact on their world” did here.

If you’d like to accelerate your learning, I have a special request: work with me to capture scenes from Ender’s Game using the micro strategy model.  Ender’s Game is a science fiction book, and is coming out soon as a movie. It  is one of the best books ever on applying strategy.  Ender is a military hero, and his equally gifted brother and sister change the world through politics.   We will post the best of them, with acknowledgement to the people who developed them, as open source tools.

Let’s use the buzz around this movie to show people their capacity to change the world.  Want to help?  Drop me an email and we’ll get started.

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