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Are we losing focus on strategy?

I recently had a look at the keyword 'strategy' in Google Trends and noticed a worrying trend. Have a look at the chart below, which tracks Google Trends for the search term 'strategy' since records began in 2014:

Google trends chart for 'Strategy'

It seems that interest in 'strategy' as a subject has declined over the last decade or so by over 50%.

I gave some thought as to why that might be and came up with five possible reasons.

1. The anti-strategy movement could be gaining ground

Perhaps people are being taken in by mantras such as 'execution trumps strategy', 'culture eats strategy for lunch', and 'agility is more important than strategy' leading them to mistakenly believe that strategy somehow matters less than previously thought.

I have written on previous occasions explaining why I think this is misguided. See, for example: False dichotomies and the noise before defeat, and Agility needs a strategy.

2. People could be shifting focus to more specific aspects of strategy

Business strategy is a relatively young discipline. It only really rose to prominence in the 1960s. As it has evolved it has developed into several subdisciplines. Where these don't specifically use the word 'strategy' in their labels, and increasing interest in those might appear as a decreasing interest in 'strategy' as an overarching topic. Some example of this might include:

  • Target Operating Model (TOM) development
    The first candidate I looked at was Target Operating Model Development. See for example: How to design a Target Operating Model (TOM). Google Trends analysis suggests that interest in Target Operating Models has increased significantly (albeit from a zero base) over the same period, as shown in the chart below:
  • Google Trends chart for Target Operating Model

    It also revealed something I had not appreciated before: all of this interest is coming exclusively from within the United Kingdom.

    Map showing searches for TOM

  • Business Model Canvas, Strategy Map, Strategy Canvas and Digital Disruption
    I then added some other strategic concepts I thought might have gained popularity into the mix. The chart below shows the relative popularity of the Business Model Canvas, Strategy Map, Strategy Canvas and Digital Disruption into the mix along-side Target Operating Model Development, over the same time period - see the chart below:
    Google Trends chart for multiple terms

    • Blue | Target Operating Model: The chart highlights the fact that, whilst popular in the United Kingdom, Target Operating Model development barely features in the rest of the world.

    • Green | Strategy Canvas: I was also surprised to see that, the Strategy Canvas popularised in the book Blue Ocean Strategy, languishes at the bottom of the chart with the Target Operating Model. Further analysis shows that, in contrast to the Target Operating Model, interest in the Strategy Canvas originates almost entirely in the USA.

      See also: How to draw a Strategy Canvas in 4 steps.

    • Purple | Strategy Map: Popularised in the book, The Balanced Scorecard, and its sequel, The Strategy-Focused Organisation, seems to be suffering a similar fate to the word Strategy itself, slowly losing popularity.

    • Yellow | Business Model Canvas: Introduced in the book Business Model Generation seems to be the big winner. I am a great fan of the model, and given the ever increasing popularity of startups and startup culture, the popularity of this model is unsurprising.

      See also: How to use a Business Model Canvas.

    • Red | Digital Transformation: Whilst not a model or specific concept in the same way that the others are, I included this one off the back of some research claiming that Digital Transformation now accounts for ~25% of all strategy projects. The Google Trends analysis certainly bears this out, and one can easily imagine Digital Transformation eclipsing the Business Model Canvas in the very near future.

      See also: The digital spiral towards innovation at the core

3. Attention spans could be reducing

In a world where even world leaders struggle with more than 140 characters, it could be that disciplines like strategy simply require too much attention for people to bother.

I'd like to believe that we're not living through the early scenes of the film Idiocracy. However, as the art of strategy evolves, strategists need to work with ever greater care and discipline in order to identify and extract value from increasingly competitive markets.

Perhaps that is simply something that fewer and fewer people are willing to do.

4. People could think strategy is really easy

In direct contrast to the previous points, perhaps everyone thinks they are now a strategist.

In the last 4 hours, I've read two blog posts in which the author picked holes in well-known business and claimed to have the fix for them. Both analyses were based on precious little data or other evidence, were over-simplistic and completely missed the mark. One basically criticised LinkedIn for not being more like Facebook, whilst the other thought Uber was doomed because after 4 rides they'd not asked him for an NPS score. (I'd only read them because the headlines had seemed promising.)

When you think strategy is that easy, why would you need to Google it or take any other steps to learn how to do it?

5. Google Trends could be too blunt an instrument

Search terms trends are a blunt instrument for measuring the popularity of something. In the first instance, who really knows how Google collects and presents this data. Certainly not I. There could be many other technical reasons for the trends we think we're seeing.

In the second instance, we don't really know why people are searching for strategy. They could be searching for strategy games, military strategy or any of a range of topics with little to do with business strategy at all. So the decrease in popularity of strategy could have little to do with business strategy at all. A quick Google Trends check on 'business strategy' reveals, however, a similar trend as for 'strategy' in general. However, I am not sure if that distinction is viable as I suspect few business strategists distinguish when searching.


Having completed the above analysis, my conclusions are that:

  • The specific terms 'Strategy' and 'Business Strategy' do appear to be losing popularity.
  • However, specific sub-disciplines, particularly those labelled without including the word 'strategy' are thriving. (Tip: If you're developing a new strategy concept, leave the word out of its name.)
  • The popularity of some strategy approaches is much more regional than I had realised.

Over to you: Do you think we are losing focus on strategy? If so, why do you think that might be? Should we be concerned? What, if anything, should we do about it? Please drop your answers in the comments below.

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