Yes, you the strategist.
Who works in an agency, if we call them agencies anymore? Think about it.
You are expected to carry the workload that account management puts in your shoulders.
You let your creative partners ride on the back of your strategies.
You plough the field of growth for the brands under your stewardship.
You are expected to run faster towards everything that is new, interesting, innovative or simply cool.
And you like it. You neigh with joy every time that an idea is born, a campaign is successful and your client is happy.
But not all horses are created equal. Some are better than others. Some seem more equipped with what it takes to run faster towards ideas, jump through the hoops of stakeholder layers and carry that burden of an ever-changing marketplace. So which kind of horse is the right kind for the task of strategy? Does it have long legs, strong back, fast stride or maybe a horn in its forehead and wings and looks like a unicorn?
The answer is not whimsical and only part scientific. It is based on observation, experience and it borrows an idea from Adam Grant, an American author and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Adam Grant’s research revealed that in all professional environments there are people that act as either takers, givers or matchers. These interchangeable styles have a direct impact on why and how they succeed or fail. In his book ‘Give and Take’ showed that Takers are only interested in self-advancement, always assessing what others can offer them. While Givers prefer to give more than they get, therefore paying more attention to what others need from them, rather than what they can get from others. You can spot a Taker from some distinctive features. They like to receive more than they give and abide by the “Horse eat Horse world” policy. They like to self-promote their few good deeds so they can get recognition. Takers are a black hole because they can suck the energy from any group or system. They have no resemblance to Givers, who have a sunny disposition, and inject light into any organization they find themselves in. Givers have the ability to create a psychologically safe climate where everyone feels they can contribute. This type of environment is necessary for people to learn and be more innovative.
The simple distinction between Givers and Takers will form the first axis of 2×2 matrix that will define the typologies of horses for strategy. Please stay with me no strategy rant is right without a 2×2 matrix!
The second axis follows another simple distinction defined by observation. Among strategists you will meet Polymaths and Specialists.
Is easy to understand what a Specialist is, our era glorifies them. A Specialist is a strategist who concentrates primarily on a particular subject or activity, a CRM strategist for example. This person is highly skilled in this specific and restricted field. And he possess detailed knowledge that can allow him apply his expertise even in the most difficult scenarios, but always running at the risk to be solution-bias instead of problem bias. A Polymath on the other hand is someone who can harness a level of expertise in multiple disciplines and act as the translator between seemingly unrelated fields. A Polymath can navigate an increasingly complex world, ripe with new business models, interest groups, and burgeoning trends. She can recognize patterns that can be applied across industries ripe for disruption, can communicate with new unlikely business partners, and translate effectively across disciplines and business units. And ultimately a Polymath can empathize with opposing viewpoints and opinions
Now we are ready to reveal the types of horses for strategy:
Let’s start from the bottom left quadrant.
The One trick ponies, those lovely creatures with only one special feature, talent, or area of expertise. Used to exist in spades in agencies when agencies were fat and had the tendency to hire one strategist for each one of client whims. One trick ponies are good at one thing but are even better at protecting there so called expertise. They cover what they do in mystique and always present it as far more complex than it is (as I am writing one specific person comes in mind).
Again on the bottom but at the right hand side of the matrix, we can find the show ponies.
The Show ponies are those familiar faces that always manage to be at the center of attention. They are charismatic, they can dance on their feet and you can find a lot of them in a modern agency. The problem with them is that their charisma is not transferable (i.e. based on genes or special upbringing) and most of the time they lack substance because who needs substance in an agency when you look good at presentations. But in order to be fair there are some of them that have both style and substance but they are so intertwined that you cannot separate one from the other.
On the top left quadrant now.
The Racehorses are beautiful creatures that pose a certain skill in its maximum level. They are elite athletes, masters in their craft who do not fear to share their tricks because they are confident on their skills. The only problem is that they are so in love with what they do that they do not care to learn anything else. Strategy departments need Racehorses in many positions in order to excel but not at the helm. Racehorses are excellent team players but not great team leaders as they intent to want everybody to be like them.
Finally at the top right quadrant we can find:
The Mustangs are magnificent free-roaming talent that defies conventions and is not easy to be tamed. They tend to run wild with no respect of disciplines or knowledge domains. They are always curious always suffering from divine discontent, always ready to learn more and to share more. It is neither by mistake nor accident that the Greek word ‘Strategos’ – the one who leads the army (believe me I know, I am Greek) was translated in Latin and then in English as ‘General’. Having a general purview of the battlefield and not a detailed pov was the difference between strategy and tactics. Mustangs are not tied to any discipline, specialization or capability. They are preoccupied only with the problem and not with the solution at hand. They share continuously in their effort to explore every option and become better at everything. They are rare and only few agencies provide the right environment for them. Agency management fears them because they are not easy to control, clients respect them because they bring real value to the table and creative love them because they inspire and protect ideas.
Be a Mustang my friend.
And maybe somebody will name a sports car after you 😉
by @AKocheilas Antonis Kocheilas