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Odysseus: The original strategist

I like to think of Odysseus as the original archetypal strategist.

(In our western tradition, at least.)

Odysseus was known was the wiliest of the Greek kings that laid siege to Troy. A bit of a trickster, really.

The siege lasted for 10 years. It was a war of attrition. Sometimes the Greeks won a bit. Other times the Trojans won a little bit. Mostly, people died and little progress was made.

It was Odysseus who came up with the idea of the Trojan Horse (see below).

(Actually, the myths tell us it was the goddess Athena who whispered it in his ear.)

The Trojan horse allowed a handful of Greeks to defeat the Trojans where the whole army had failed for a decade.

And that is the heart of strategy. Winning by being cleverer and by doing something different. Not trying the same thing harder (longer, faster, better, etc.) despite disappointing results.

These are lessons from history which we would do well to apply when developing modern business strategies:

  • Don't try and match your competitors' strategies.
  • Look for a different, novel and surprising approach.
  • Focus on small things that can make a disproportionately big difference.
  • Don't show your hand too early.
  • If what you're doing hasn't been working, its time to try something else.

What do you think?

By the way: Stephen Fry's retelling of Troy (see right) is a fantastic read. If you want to know more about Odysseus and his tricks, I highly recommend it.

A quick summary of the Trojan Horse

If you're not familiar with the story of the Trojan Horse, here is a quick summary of what is one of the most intriguing and well-known tales from Greek mythology, particularly from the epic conclusion of the Trojan War.

After a gruelling and unsuccessful siege of Troy that lasted ten years, the Greeks devised a cunning plan to break into the city's impregnable walls. The brainchild of Odysseus, the scheme involved constructing a gigantic wooden horse, ostensibly as a peace offering to the Trojans but secretly harbouring elite Greek soldiers inside.

The Greeks built the horse and left it at the gates of Troy, while the main Greek army pretended to retreat, hiding out of sight. The Trojans, believing they had finally seen the Greeks off and won the war, debated what to do with the horse. Despite warnings from LaocoΓΆn and Cassandra to distrust the Greek gift, the Trojans, overwhelmed by curiosity and the thought of a Greek surrender, pulled the horse into their city as a trophy of their apparent victory.

The celebration was short-lived. Under the cover of night, the Greek soldiers hidden inside the horse emerged and opened the city gates to the rest of the Greek army, which had returned under the cover of darkness. The Greeks launched a surprise attack, leading to the fall of Troy. This pivotal event effectively ended the war, with the Greeks using deception and tactical ingenuity to overcome their enemies. The term "Trojan Horse" has since become synonymous with trickery and the subversive infiltration of an enemy, making it a lasting symbol of strategic deception.

Integrate generative AI into your business strategy

Has Generative AI lived up to its transformative promise?

2023 was undoubtedly the year we all played with Generative AI. 2024 should be the year it could transform your business.

Now, a little over a mere 13 months since ChatGPT launched, we can reflect on how it's changed things.

There is already a sense of the hype-cycle shifting with increasing frustration over what it can't do.

In my experience, a lot of this is based on a combination of misuse and unrealistic expectations.

Where to from here?

I remain optimistic about the possibilities of Generative (and other forms of) AI.

Like any tool, I am sure it can - and almost certainly will - be used badly and for bad purposes. But that doesn't detract from the opportunities to use it well and for good purposes.

So, how can we ensure that we remain on the right side of that equation?

Here are my tips:

  1. Always start with a business need. As with most new technologies there will almost certainly be more things that you *could* do than that you *should* do with it. Trying to everything at once, or prioritising at random will leave you chasing your tail. A clear business strategy will help you to prioritise where to put your efforts.

  2. Think different, not just better. AI will enable us to do many things that we already do, but better - faster, more consistently, more cheaply and at higher volume or with fewer people. While that's invariably a good thing, let's not lose sight of the opportunities to do things differently or to do different things. We need to be thinking about new products, services, processes, business models and strategies as much as we are thinking about improving the efficiency of existing ones.

  3. Think beyond chatbots: We've got think beyond typing questions into the ChatGPT/Bard etc. prompt box and then copy/pasting the answers into whatever else we're doing. We need to seamlessly integrate AI into our existing tools and processes, making it as ubiquitous and unintrusive in our daily operations as electricity or Wi-Fi.

    (We're already building it into StratNavApp.com where it helps users develop and execute better business strategies without them being aware of the details of the prompts and responses being written and consumed in the background!)
Reach out if you need help integrating AI into your business strategy.

The Critical Gap in Business Strategy Execution: Insights from Feb 2024

Reflecting on 2023, I made a startling discovery about business strategy!

I analysed* thousands of projects on StratNavApp.com during 2023. I found that of those that got as far as setting strategic goals and/or strategic initiatives:

  • Fewer than 25% got as far as setting KPIs.**
  • Fewer than 20% actually tracked those KPIs.

That means that more than 80% of those strategies never progress beyond being a theoretical assumption about what should work. Even if they're executed, there is no way of knowing if they're producing the intended outcomes or not. They're flying blind!πŸš«πŸ‘€

I challenge these organisations to:

  1. Break your strategic goals down into SMART objectives.🎯

    SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

  2. Establish clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for tracking each of them.πŸ”

    Together, these objectives and KPIs are often called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

  3. Regularly track actual performance against them.

  4. Analyse your performance against expectations.πŸ“Š

    It's important to set expectations in advance, otherwise you risk simply settling for whatever results you get.

  5. Make appropriate adjustments to your strategy if the results aren't what you'd anticipated.πŸ”„

    There is no point in just carrying on with your strategy if it is not producing the intended results.

  6. Keep repeating as you watch your business flourish.🌱

Fortunately, StratNavApp.com provides you with all the tools you need to do this in one convenient place. It even uses AI to help break through any barriers you might encounter. You can learn more about how it does this at Goals, Objectives, KPIs, Targets, Initiatives and Actions and Creating a Strategy Scorecard.

If you need more help than that, please contact me.

But don't hesitate. The sooner you start the sooner you can start enjoying a more successful 2024!

Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.πŸ‘‡

Notes:

* NB: StratNavApp.com provides the ability to do this kind of analysis without ever looking at what your strategy actually is. Your strategy is always confidential to only you and those you choose to share it with.

** The actual figures are 23.9% set KPIs and 19.1% tracked them.

*** Some strategies built in StratNavApp.com may have built and tracked their KPIs on another platform. We estimate this number to be small as a virtue of StratNavApp.com is that it provides an integrated platform for strategy development and execution.

See also:

Strategy: More Than Just an Annual Ritual - It's a Continuous Discipline

It's very important that your business complies with the law.

You need to enter into contracts with employees, suppliers, distributors, and customers. You need to make sure that those contracts are fit for purposes, and that both you and your counterparties comply with their terms.

One way to ensure your business remains legally compliant is to take your top leadership team on an Annual Legal Retreat. Over the course of 1-3 days, you can discuss all of the legal issues that might apply to your business, update yourselves on recent legal developments, and make all the decisions you need to make until next year's Legal Retreat.

And since your organisation's leaders are your top employees in disciplines like operations, marketing, human resources, and finance, they should have no problem covering the full gamut of the law in just a few days once a year.

I am, of course, joking! That would be absurd!

We don't expect to handle everything to do with the law - or with financial management, human resources, marketing, operations - in a short off-site once a year.

So why do so many organisations think that they can get away with doing that with strategy?

Is having - and successfully executing - a sound strategy less important than any of those other things?

You don't go on an annual marketing retreat, you hire a CMO or a marketing consultant. You don't go on an annual HR retreat, your hire a head of HR or an HR consultant. You don't go on an annual legal retreat, you hire a lawyer or engage a law firm. You don't... you get the picture.

Like all those other disciplines:

  1. strategy is a unique discipline requiring specialised skills and experience.
  2. effective strategy demands year-round attention, not just an annual review.
  3. modern strategy needs tools - which in today's world means software like StratNavApp.com - which are fit for purpose.
Your strategy is executed in everything you do - in every decision you make - every day. And it is impacted by and may need to be adjusted in the face of external market events which can arise at any time. This can't be handled on a 2-day offsite once a year.

Your options are:

  1. Hire someone: You can hire a Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) with the right skills and experience in doing business strategy and give them a seat at the top table, just as you're hire a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), HR Officer (HRO), etc.
    or

  2. Use external consultants: If you're a smaller organisation and can't afford permanent dedicated resource, or even if you just need some extra lifting power from time to time, you can hire experienced and expert strategy consultants (like Chris C Fox Consulting!) to help,
    and

  3. Use purpose-built software: Both of the above approaches are significantly enhanced by using dedicated software, like StratNavApp.com, for strategy development and execution, just like you probably use dedicated accounting software, marketing tools and an HR Management System (HRMS). This will ensure that your strategy is both soundly formulated and executed with discipline.

Share your thoughts in the comments below: Does your organisation take strategy seriously enough? Or does it pay lip-service to strategy once a year and then hope for the best? Let's discuss how we can shift the narrative from strategy as an annual event to a continuous discipline.

If you need help with you business strategy or any related issues, contact me for a no-obligation consultation.

P.S. Remember, strategy is not just an annual checkbox. It's the guiding force that drives your business forward every single day. πŸš€

Navigating the Shift: Balancing Self-Service Tech and Human Interaction in the Age of AI

Since the birth of the internet we've been grappling with the balance between online self-service and service delivered by real human people.

The historic context

To date, interacting with computers has been fairly restricted. Computers relied on structured input and relatively simply choices. Online self-service has largely relied on menus (for choices) and forms (for structured inputs). These were not always intuitive to use - especially for customers. User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) Design developed as complex specialities within digital transformation to try to over come these difficulties.

But for many users, this was still simply too difficult. And so they continued to rely on speaking to real human people.

Call centres grew in response to this demand. Operators either did things for customers in the first place, acting as an organic interface between the customers and the systems they were unable to interact with on their own, or a trouble-shooters helping customers to figure out how to interact with the computers or correct the errors they'd made.

The net effect was that we paid call centre operators to act as intermediaries between customers and computer systems because the computer systems were too difficult for the customers to use themselves.

(I am not ignoring the fact that some customer simply prefer to talk to real people. But I question how much of that preference is driven by the fact that it is too difficult to do things any other way?)

Using call centre operators as intermediaries brought its own challenges. It's obviously more expensive to pay operators to act as intermediaries than not to (all other things being equal). The work itself is often very repetitive and not very engaging, leading to high turnover rates and high recruitment and training costs.

And, for customers, it leads to long call-waiting queues, being passed from one operator to another, and dealing with sometimes under-trained operators.

Attempts to relieve some of the pressure, like Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and chatbots were relatively primitive and often only served to increase customers' frustrations.

Much of this cost and frustration can be attributed to Failure Demand*. That is costs incurred because the customer didn't get what they wanted without it. (*As opposed to Value Demand, which is the demand for what customers actually want.)

So what is changing?

In 2023, the capability balance between online self-service and service delivered by real human people shifted dramatically.

This change is being powered by the development of Large Language Models (LLM) and Transformers (like Generative Pre-trained Transformers or GPTs) coupled with improvements in Natural Language Processing (NLP) as exemplified by OpenAI's ChatGPT, Google's Bard and many others.

Intelligent agents are now able to deliver a much more personal and human-like interaction than ever before.

Chatbots and IVRs are progressing from being frustrating barriers to getting through to a real person to being really useful agents that can solve problems quickly, consistently and efficiently.

They can receive information in natural language, respond in natural language, and carry the context through the multiple interactions which make up a typical conversation.

These conversations can be text-based (typed and read) or, using text-to-voice and voice-to-text converters, they can be auditory (spoken and heard). It will become harder and harder to determine whether the voice on the other end of the line is human or automated (or whether it is a person or a computer responding to your chat or email messages).

Such systems will start to replace many traditional menu and form-based computer interfaces with natural language interfaces. AI in customer service will enable more customers to self-serve more, more easily, more effectively and more pleasantly. But it could also have similar impacts on internal systems and interactions with suppliers, distributors and other business partners.

And as such processes become more automated, it will become easier to ensure they are compliant with both internal policies and external regulations.

This will inevitably start with the very simplest of interactions only, but will gradually spread to more and more complex interactions as the technology improves and proves itself.

Conclusions

Just as the internet, and then mobile devices, changed customers' expectations of convenience, so too will this new age of intelligent agents transform the future of customer interaction.

Businesses that don't respond will soon find they are getting left behind.

It is important to start engaging and experimenting now, even if it is only with relative simple and non-core processes.

In order to reduce and better manage the inevitable risks of change, organisations could, for example:

  1. start experimenting with internal processes such as human resources and IT support, and then distributor and supplier facing processes, before extending this to customer-facing processes.
  2. start experimenting with a "human in the loop", like letting AI prepare email responses (or parts thereof) but still having a human read and amend them (if necessary) before sending them.

How is your business rising to this challenge?

If you need support, reach out to me for a conversation on navigating this evolving landscape.πŸ“ž

See also:



Getting the most out of Generative AI

Are you getting the most out of Generative AI?

Unlocking the full potential of Generative AI (like ChatGPT) can revolutionize your workflow, your business and your strategy.πŸ’‘

But did you know there are 6 key levels and 4 sub-levels to master?πŸš€

Picking the right one(s) can dramatically improve your results.✨

Level 1: Using the original ChatGPT Interface

You can, of course, still using the original ChatGPT chat interface as it was launched on 30 November 2022 to ask it simple questions.

Most people have tried this. And it turns out that ChatGPT is great when used in this way to, for example "write a poem about business strategy in the style of Dr Seuss" or "explain the causes of the first world war."

That in itself was revolutionary. For the first time we have a computer system where we could ask questions in  natural English, get answers in natural English and then ask follow up questions and have those answered within the context of the conversation thus far.

But it quickly emerged that, to get it to do anything more useful required more careful thought.

The original ChatGPT prompt interface allowed from prompts of up 4,000 characters. Simplistic prompts of c.100 characters were significantly underutilising this new technology.

And so the idea of "Prompt Engineering" arose.

Prompt Engineering is the science of providing Generative AI systems with more detailed and thoughtfully framed prompts to perform more complex and useful functions.

Boffins at places like MIT jumped on the bandwagon and produced longer and more complex prompts. They made them available for free or for a small fee. People started collecting prompts in documents from where they could cut and paste them into the ChatGPT interface and customise them as required.

It worked, but all the copying and pasting got a little tedious.

Level 2: Uploading Files

One of the first improvements was the ability to upload and query files.

The could be PDF or Excel files. (It turns out that ChatGPT is particularly good at analysing the data in Excel files.

Initially, this required plugins. But these capabilities were eventually built into the core product.

Level 2: Adding Custom Instructions

The addition of custom instructions reduced some of the tedious copying and pasting.

Custom instructions allowed you to provide some context which it would apply to all future conversations. 

For example, I could tell it "You are a business strategy consultant", "You use British English", "You communicate in a professional but friendly tone tone and don't use unnecessary adjectives."

This can improve your responses quite dramatically.

But you can only have one set of custom instructions, and that means you can only have one "persona" with ChatGPT. 

That's where GPTs come in (see level 4).

But first...

Level 4: Accessing the Internet

One of the biggest shortcoming of ChatGPT when it first came out was the fact that it was training on historic data only. This was less of a problem on the paid version of ChatGPT, but even that was always a few months behind the times.

That all changed with the integration of Bing. You can now ask ChatGPT to access a specific web page, or to search the Internet for specific information from which to provide responses. So, more or less, it it is on the Internet, and especially if Bing can find it, you can operate ChatGPT on it.

Level 5: Custom GPTs

Level 5a: Multiple Custom Instructions

Custom GPTs were a huge step forward. At their most basic, they allow you to create multiple sets of Custom Instructions. So you can create multiple personas trained on different instructions and switch between them with ease.

I've already built about 10 of these.

For example, I trained one on my tone of voice and preferred marketing channels to help me to develop and enhance marketing messages. I trained another on my professional track record and business offering to help me together consulting proposals. I trained a third to know what technology stack StratNavApp.com is built on so that it can help me with coding and technical trouble-shooting. And I trained a fourth on how search the Internet to support commercial due diligence on organisations I am looking at.

Level 5b: Uploading Knowledge

In addition to Custom Instructions, GPTs allow you to upload documents containing knowledge. The GPT can then use that knowledge in performing tasks for you.

For example, I uploaded a document summarising my consulting experience as well as client endorsements to my GPT for writing consulting proposals. The GPT can then extract the most relevant examples from that to use in its responses.

It would be easy to upload staff manuals, customer instruction manuals, contracts and agreements and all manner of other content and then to build GPTs around them to allow people to work with the information more intuitively.

Level 5c: Integrating APIs

The ability to upload static knowledge documents is powerful enough. But ChatGPT also allows you to integrate with systems via standard APIs. So you could build a GPT which now only knows the specs of all of the products in your product catalogue but can also tell you whether they're in stock at your local store.

Of course, APIs don't just provide information, they can also take in, store and act on it. So you could train a GPT on your product support manual, but also enable it to log a support ticket in your ticket tracking systems if it can't answer your support query. Or you could have it place an order for a product once it has confirmed stock levels and prices.

This means that GPTs can operate as 'intelligent agents', taking care of tasks for us.

Level 5d: The GPT Market Place

If writing prompts was complex, writing GPTs can be even more so. Just like we have experts engineering prompts that users can cut and paste into the chat interface (see level 1), expert GPT builders can also build and share GPTs with other users.

At the time of writing this, OpenAI have not yet released their official GPT marketplace, although they've promised it before the end of January 2024. I imagine this will operate much like the iOS and Android app stores, with GPTs available for free or at a charge.

In the mean time, it is still possible to share GPTs, as long as you know where to find them (or someone shares a link with you).

Level 6: Using ChatGPT's APIs

ChatGPT's API provide the final level of flexibility and control. You can embed Generative API into your existing applications or Low-Code/No-Code solutions.

If expect that this is where the most powerful applications of Generative AI will emerge. At the same time, the technology will disappear from view, working tireless and yet unseen in the background like electricity and Wi-Fi already do.

StratNavApp.com already uses the ChatGPT API to perform a number of tasks related to developing and executing business strategy. Of course, the users don't see the prompts or the responses passed between StratNavApp.com and ChatGPT. They only experience the results without having to worry about the behind the scenes complexities. (Although we do tell them when we're using ChatGPT for transparency's sake!)

More and more applications are embedding Generative AI in similar ways. In fact you may already be using several without knowing it!

Chat GPT versions

Chat GPT is available in a number of versions: the free version, the paid retail version, the enterprise version and the APIs. Various of the features mentioned above are only available on some of these versions. In addition, each version comes with different levels of privacy and security, as well as underlying LLM models with different strengths, weaknesses and currency levels.

A full discussion of these versions and their implications is beyond the scope of this post, but important to understand as you plan your adoption strategy.

In conclusion

If you're an individual, you should be working your way up to level 4b. If you're an organization, you should be working your way up to level 6. You should be providing your staff and customers with solutions which harness Generative AI enhance their experience.

If you're still stuck on level 1, you're missing out on most of what the Generative AI revolution has to offer.❌

I spend most of my time at level 5, getting fantastic results. And, of course, StratNavApp.com is investing heavily at level 6 and getting even better results!

What level(s) are you working at? How is it going for you?

Are you using Generative AI like ChatGPT effectively in your business?

Contact me for help.

See also:

6 Levels as a pyramid

The Myth of One-Size-Fits-All Strategy: Beyond Simplistic Advice

The Limitations of Simplistic Strategy Quotes

I've always been fond of insightful #strategyQuotes that distil some element of wisdom into a single line.

You can see some of my favourite quotes about business strategy here. I also frequently post to #strategyQuotes on LinkedIn.

But real strategy and leadership are far more intricate than any single quote can convey.

Soundbites - no matter how appealing - are not enough!

Soundbites Are Not Enough for Real Strategy

It's easy to get drawn to the allure of simple solutions.

Phrases like "the one thing you need to know," "the only advice you need," or "the ultimate answer to success" are not just oversimplifications; they can be downright misleading.

The real world of business strategy is seldom that straightforward.

Beware the Snake Oil Salesmen

When encountering recommendations that sound too good to be true, remember that they often are. 

Even straightforward directives such as "do this" or "don't do that" should be approached with caution unless they're grounded in a thorough analysis of your unique and current situation.

The Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas

An early mentor of mine often cited Thomas Aquinas, who warned, "Beware the man of one book." 

This is a valuable reminder in the context of strategy and leadership. There is no single method, tool, technique, or piece of advice that works universally. Each situation demands a bespoke approach.

The Diverse Toolbox of the Leader

Effective leaders and strategists understand the importance of a diverse set of insights and methods. The skill lies not just in having these tools but in knowing when and how to apply them.

See also: Essential Tools for Strategy Analysis

Beyond Magic Beans: The Need for Tailored Approaches

The notion of easy routes to success belongs in fairy tales like Jack and the Beanstalk, and has no place in business. In the real world, we need more than magic beans; success requires strategies that are tailored to our specific circumstances and executed with discipline.

If you need help finding the right strategy for your business, contact me for a free no-obligation consultation.