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Star Trek strategy: real strategy at work

Star Trek strategy underscores how strategy must be evaluated: as a work of fiction sending firms boldly to go where none have gone before.

By Peter Brews 01 September 2003

Strategic plans often contain generic or motherhood and apple pie statements accompanied by outcome-based “stretch” goals that are not strategy but measures to determine whether or not good strategy has been implemented. Star Trek strategy, as described by Peter J Brews, underscores how strategy must be evaluated: as a work of creative fiction sending firms boldly to go where none have gone before.
StarTrekstrategyrealstrategyatworkPerhaps you are a CEO or business unit manager leading a group of people who have worked together for a long time. Until recently results were as expected but performance is now slipping and the way ahead is unclear. You face the hardest challenge of all: developing a strategy to arrest the decline.

In your predicament you have consulted a legion of strategy experts, who suggest a variety of approaches. Develop a formal, specific plan, say some. Shoot the formal planners and plan incrementally, counter others. Consider your industry structure and exploit generic strategies, advises a third. Refine your “strategic intent” and leverage core competencies, offers a fourth group. By now you are thoroughly confused – understandably so.

A review of your existing strategy documents is equally unhelpful. You find a mission statement that could apply to all your competitors: to be market leader in the quality delivery of xyz services to ABC consumers worldwide. Carefully crafted over months of intensive debate, the statement is accompanied by other “stretch” goals and desired firm attributes: to be the employer of choice in your industry; to have one million customers by 2005 (you currently have 670,000); to cut service delivery costs by 20 per cent over the next financial year; all to achieve aboveaverage returns for stockholders. A set of desired “values” complete the document: innovation; teamwork; and customer focus are all highly valued, important and vital but now, you discover, quite unhelpful when real strategy is needed.

Sadly, you are not alone. Often, what is done in the name of strategy misses the mark. The cause of this is twofold. First, the essence of strategy is misunderstood and considerable time and effort is devoted to developing ideas that at best are motherhood and apple pie statements supported by high-level outcome goals. Second, few appreciate how our current stock of knowledge about strategy assists in developing true strategy.


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