Strategy Is A Story That We Hope To Tell

Strategy is about story. I have been reading Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, and since it is such a well-known story, let’s use it as an example. (Of course, strategy is a significant component to the actual story of the Don’s success, making it especially fitting…)

Puzo’s book is not completely chronological, and in fact jumps back and forth in time. Part of the allure for The Godfather is the way in which we as readers (and in the case of the movie, as viewers) are able to respect and connect with characters that just so happen to be extremely violent murderers showing no remorse. The author accomplishes this by reminding us of the characters’ past. Legacy and tradition are integral to understanding the dynamics of the organized crime families portrayed. Legacy and tradition are also integral to the strategies of the main characters in carrying out their business.

My position has always been that you have to know where you come from in order to know where you are headed.

A commonly overlooked component to The Godfather is the deep introspection that Puzo brings to his characters. This has become a staple of mafia stories since then. In Good Fellas, Casino, and The Sopranos, the characters many times seem more concerned with philosophy and psychology than the violence so often associated with organized crime. Careful consideration of the wider impact of decisions seems to have become a common denominator in the Dons portrayed in popular culture. In The Godfather, Sonny’s reckless and highly emotional acts are a disgrace, and he pays dearly for them.

The Don considered a use of threats the most foolish kind of exposure; the unleashing of anger without forethought as the most dangerous indulgence. No one had ever heard the Don utter a naked threat, no one had ever seen him in an uncontrollable rage. It was unthinkable.

What’s the Point?

For me, strategy needs to be at the foundation of every decision. In business, strategy is at the heart of superior execution. Take marketing, for example. Why are you putting time and money into a particular campaign? What is the story that you are crafting? What are the roots/legacy of that story? Where is the story headed? How will you pull people in to your story? The same is true in delivering a presentation. What do you want people to take away from your presentation? What is the plot, and how will it take shape?

Strategy is a story that we hope to tell. Success can therefore be thought of as executing a well-crafted and carefully considered story. Unlike writing a story, we don’t know how others are going to react. All we can do is try to empathize with others, anticipating their response, and consider the possibilities as we execute the strategy, ready to make adjustments to the course as necessary. Conversely, not considering strategy is reckless, and the risk for emotionally driven reactions has been proven to derail success.


I just happened to notice that Julien Smith (an amazing author and thinker) published a blog post today entitled, Everything has been done. Give up now. In it, Smith states that (as the title suggests) everything has pretty much already been done by someone else, often better. What makes the difference is story. He eloquently states:

The best storytellers are translators of information. They take an experience and create layers on top of it, like an onion, that get peeled and reveal deeper insight.

And to me, that is exactly what strategy is. Formulating a solid strategy, like crafting a wonderful story, is about taking your experience and knowledge and weaving it into something cohesive and useful to others.

Hint – Julien Smith writes some amazing stuff. He is on a short list of people whose email newsletters I will not pass up.

Image courtesy Jonny Hughes