Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The Strategist as Playwright

When asked, "What is a Strategist and what does he / she do?", I find this analogy useful.

The CEO and Executive Team as the King and His Court: The King and his court decide that they want a play to entertain them. They decide broadly on the theme of the play, and agree to invest a certain amount of venture capital.

The Strategist as Playwright: The Playwright is then brought in to write the story around the theme. The playwright understands the King and his Court's requirements, looks at what other plays have already been written on similar themes, and gauges the prevailing sentiments of the play-watching public. Based on this, the playwright constructs the plot and sub-plots that develop the theme, and creates the characters necessary to implement it. The script (strategic plan) then pulls all the elements together to show how the play will unfold.

The Financial Planner as Producer: The producer then steps in to calculate the cost of producing the play, as well as the expected returns. A budget is prepared, and actors are recruited. Estimates are made of the size of crowd that will be drawn, and what they can be expected to pay to see the play. A cost / benefit analysis is prepared to ensure that the play will be profitable.

The Business Architect as Set Designer: The set designer then designs the theater and stage. The theatre must be large enough to accommodate the expected audience size and must have an appropriate balance of standing room, normal and balcony seats. The stage, wings, flies and props must also be designed to allow for sufficient room for the actors to move about, as well as sufficient room and mechanics to manipulate the set according to the dictates of the script.

The Programme Manager as Director: The director makes sure that all the actors know their lines and when and where they need to be to deliver them. He also ensures that the props and set are ready in time and integrate appropriately with the movements of the actors. The director takes final responsibility for pulling it all together and making it happen.

The Employees as Actors: The actors not only have to learn and deliver their lines, but they must also interpret them, under the guidance of the director, and bring them to life. During the live production of the play, the actors are required to make ongoing but minor adjustments to compensate for the mood of the audience as well as any slight variations on the part of their fellow players.

The Market as Audience: It is the audience who pay their money to see the play, thereby hopefully making it profitable. After the playwright, producer, set designer, director and actors have collaborated to work their magic, the audience receives the play and also stands in judgement. If the play does not please the audience, word will get out, and attendance at subsequent performances will be poor. Alternatively, if early audiences love the play, it can expect to play to full houses. The audience thus is the arbiter of the financial success or failure of the play.

The Analyst as Critic: Peppered throughout the audience you can expect to find a number of critics. These could be journalists, whose published opinions on the play could have an even more marked effect on future audience turnout, or they could be fellow playwrights looking to understand their competing plays and the audience reaction to them. Either way, the response of the critics is an invaluable indication of expected audience response.

In practice of course, life is much more complicated. In modern organisations, the division of labour is much less clear. For example, and entrepreneur frequently plays the roles of King and Court, Playwright, Producer, Director, Set Designer, Director and Actor in a one man show. In large organisations too, roles frequently don't exist or overlap in different ways. In fact, I would never suggest that anyone limit themselves to one role only. Rather, you will see an achieve more if wear different hats at different times and try to keep all perspectives in mind. Finally, of course, the world changes far too fast to support out simple analogy. In response, the Playwright writes the script as the Actors act it out, the Audience steps onto the stage to participate from time to time, the Actors ad lib in response to the chaos, the Set Designer redesigns the set during the show, while the Director and Producer frantically try to keep it all under control. Ah well, no analogy is perfect...

The inspiration for this analogy was taken from the film "Shakespeare in Love".