A day in the life of a strategist
Scan, scrutinize, select, score...scan, scrutinize, select, score...
A typical day?
Read 971 emails. Delete 898. Respond to 71 (without thought). Respond to 2 (with thought).
I’m kidding. Sort of.
Last year I wrote about what I consider to be a virtuous cycle—that strategists’ should continually scan, scrutinize, select, and then score how they’ve done for feedback.
So the first part of the strategist’s day is spent scanning. Think of it like hiking up to the top of a guard tower, climbing the 96 steps or 101 floors, grabbing the binoculars, and simply, quietly, looking all around. I remember bringing cadets to the historical battlefield at Gettysburg for military staff rides where we’d talk through what decisions were made by key leaders in that great battle. We’d often start the day at the top of a National Park Service constructed tower that enabled us to see in all directions to visualize the oncoming attack or defense.
This is how to think about the strategist’s day-break. Scan. Find a way to know something about the world you live in. Read news, real news, not just opinion. I run, very early in the morning, and find it helpful to listen to podcasts that incorporate a worldly perspective, including Fareed Zakaria’s “GPS,” and even Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” (just out in audio).
If the first step is to cast the widest possible net, the second step is to see what you’ve caught. What stuck. Scrutinize it, consider its value, consider what it does for you and consider what importance it provides the organization you work for. Sometimes important things are generally important but not specifically important, and so can be set aside. You may catch a giant Marlin, but may not have the interest or appetitite for gutting and cleaning such a mongo fish.
Nobody can tell you how to decide what’s important. Even your boss can’t, because your boss can’t fully know what it is that you’ve considered about the day and so can’t determine what you’ve excluded.
Of course your boss can put projects in front of you. Naturally. But those are requirements. Remember, though, you always get to choose how you answer those requirements and what background context you bring to that work.
I’ve read elsewhere that another strategist refers to this as the “distill” process. I think that’s a fine term, that works. I prefer “scrutinize” to “distill” because to distill is to “remove contaminants or impurities from” something (according to one common dictionary), which, to me, isn’t usually possible. To scruitize is to “examine something with great care,” including all its imperfections, its impurities, and its misshapen state.
Then we select. What will we action? Notice the bulk of discussion is about scanning and scrutinizing, and I’d say other than periods of particular focus, that’s about the right balance, weighted toward choosing what to do first.
My gut tells me that for strategists the doing matters less than what you chooose to be doing. Focus on the inputs rather than the outputs, because if you do the former well the latter will naturally follow.
Above all these activities form a funnel. A sorting, a sifting, and at the end you get a pile of projects worthy of your time.
Then score how you did. To do so honestly may be the toughest part of the entire process.
That’s what a strategist, regardless of organization or affiliation, should do on a daily basis.
Can I be more specific? About precise projects? I don’t think I can. Each strategist will serve in different times and contexts and that changes things so much. But I can say that strategists’, good strategists’, notice that something is missing or something is out of place or something could be better. And that’s the starter’s pistol on a strategist’s contribution.
Reader’s Note: This post first appeared in April 2022.