Facts are nice things. Not as nice as a root beer float, but nice.
Big Red Car here on a cool Texas morning with the Fahrenheit set at 72. Hello, Fall!
So, I am in the midst of helping a bunch of CEOs either craft their first crack at strategy or to revise something they did some time ago.
Writing strategy is an exercise in storytelling. It is fiction. It is the future and all writing about the future is fiction. It is fiction you intend to make come true, but it is still fiction.
It is, however, based on facts.
Storytelling, facts & strategy
All of life and business is about telling a story. In this instance, writing your strategy, you are telling the story you intend to come true, to force to come true. It starts with some facts.
Storytellers are always told, “Write what you know.” Those things you know are facts.
Let’s review something about things we know and don’t know.
We all know the things we know.
We all know some things we don’t know.
We all don’t know a lot of things we don’t know.
Think about that for a second.
Now, back to that advice about writing about what you know. In fact, the better advice would be, “Use the things that you know to imagine the things you don’t know. Write that.”
Use the facts you know to imagine the future you want to create. Go from the things you know to make up the things you don’t know you don’t know, but can imagine. Be creative.
This is strategy — by definition a work of fiction based on some foundation of facts, known or unknown.
We know some things, facts. There are things we sort of “know” and there are some facts we possess, we own. Often, we possess them because we have experience with them.
The difference between a serial entrepreneur and a first time entrepreneur can be reduced to the comparative magnitude of what they know, the relative number of facts they possess. Experience is the accumulation of facts — some things to do and some things to never do. [An aside, why does a CEO hire a CEO coach? To rent the facts the experienced CEO coach knows because renting is cheaper than buying at full tuition. Also, that CEO coach may know some useful stuff like kryptonite is bad for even Superman.]
Here is a framework that works for me when I think about facts.
There are some facts I know from general life experience. I sort of know them in a subconscious manner. Maybe I read of them or was otherwise exposed to them.
There are some facts I know from specific experience with that fact. I own these facts. I may even have control of these facts. I possess these facts. [As a serial entrepreneur, I could see myself getting better on what facts I knew and possessed. It was real.]
There are some facts which I suspect are out there, but I haven’t verified them, yet. I can verify them if I do the work, the research. These are facts I can discover. [Pro tip: this is where a good CEO coach who has been a CEO can be useful, or a mentor. You are not alone. Get help.]
There are some facts which I can create, imagine, construct. I create these facts based on other facts which are of a higher certainty. I reason to these facts. The glue that holds these facts together is the quality of my reasoning.
Then, there are the “facts” which I not only create, I consciously and unconsciously invent and conceptualize. They are complete flights of fancy, but I want them to be true and, ultimately, I mislead myself to believing they are as true as my own experiences. [Whoa, Nellie, this is only in the context of writing strategy, nothing more.]
That is the framework from which you can use facts as a foundation to imagine and create the strategy which will deliver you at the journey’s end of your vision.
The Right Mix
To accomplish something that has never been accomplished before or to relieve one of mankind’s pain points, you will have to do something that cannot be proven as a matter of fact.
This is why your first crack at strategy is pure storytelling, fiction.
The relationship between facts you know, facts you didn’t know but researched to verify, and facts you don’t know you don’t know is what I call the “right mix.”
There is no correct answer to what the ratio should be, but I suspect is about 60-40. Sixty percent facts you can own, verify, or rent versus forty percent of facts you can reason to or are complete flights of fancy.
No science at work there, just thirty-three years of CEOing five years of helping CEOs deal with this issue, and watching lots of founders (at places like Techstars Austin) deal with this.
Action plan it, Big Red Car
As to what you do with this, I suggest the following:
1. Take ten-fifteen minutes and think about what your strategy might be. No organized thinking allowed. Put your feet up and let you mind range free. Free range brainstorming.
2. Whip open a pack of index cards and, in a stream of consciousness, write down every “fact” that bears on that strategy. Do it quick and do it with reckless abandon. When you are exhausted stop.
3. Sort those index cards into the following piles. Do it more than once and don’t be afraid to trade piles with a few of the index cards.
a. Identify those facts which you think you know from general life experience.
b. Identify those facts which you know from actual experience.
c. Identify those facts you can research and verify.
d. Identify those facts which you suspect are true, but can’t research to verify.
e. Identify those facts you want to be true, that have to be true to make your hypothesis work. The complete flights of fancy.
4. Start to write what you imagine based on what you know based on these piles.
Why, Big Red Car?
Dear reader, I am belaboring this point because I find very few first time entrepreneurs actually doing any real strategic planning. None. [More than half the founders I meet cannot differentiate amongst Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives on the first conversation. They pick it up immediately, but it is not something one is born with. It is perfectly normal. Don’t fret, overcome it.]
Strategy — the view from 30,000 feet which guides the entire company and was born of Vision, Mission
Tactics — the view from 10,000 feet which guides the departments and the management by discipline (marketing v tech, as an example)
Objectives — the boots on the ground view of the world which tells individuals what they will do today
I am seeing lots of serial entrepreneurs who knock this stuff out without any prodding. One of the CEOs I am working with did it so effortlessly, it made me cry. Big Red Car alligator tears of joy. This CEO is moving at breakneck speed and the value of experience shows.
I am taking such a laborious, process oriented approach because I find that getting started is the biggest impediment to finishing. First time entrepreneurs are intimidated by the grown up approach and need a bit of a map to get started. Here is a map you can use.
I will belabor this with one more blog post and then we are done.
Look at me. Look me in the eyes. I have done this dozens of times myself in writing the original strategy for a startup and innumerable times in revising it. It works. It is a fact I possess and I vouch for it. The Pope himself has offered his imprimatur. Please just go do it.
We have talked about this before. This bit of commentary is based on feedback from CEOs who are still struggling. Read it with this.
But, hey, what the Hell do I really know? I’m just a Big Red Car. Be good to yourself because you are special and you deserve it.