Is Strategy Dead?

by Sarah Thrift on March 29, 2016

In our ever faster moving world, is strategy and planning redundant?

The Scottish Question

by Sarah Thrift on August 17, 2014

On September 18, Scotland will decide whether to become an independent country.

Regardless of the outcome, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister has played a blinding strategy – and for all of us interested in strategy there are some interesting lessons to draw.

Half Scot Half brit flag

Alex Salmond has made himself and his party the master of the question, the timing of the question and the franchise. All of these he has chosen to maximise the chances of Scotland voting for independence. For example, Salmond picked September 2014 for the vote, after the Commonwealth Games were held in Glasgow and Scotland would have an extra bounce of self-confidence. Or take the franchise which has been extended to include 16 and 17 year olds (great!), who are also expected to on average be more in favor of independence.

Of particular interest is the question itself. For those of you who have attended my courses or who have read the first part of my book – which has been pre-released for free download you will know that I am very passionate about making sure we ask the right question and do so in the clearest possible way.

The Scottish question is extremely clear and simple: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Scottish ballot

Compare this to the question asked of Quebec in their referendum on independence in 1995:“Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?” Quite a mouthful.

A second key component of getting to a good question is to make sure that it is not leading, nor making any implicit assumptions.

Interestingly, originally the Scottish government wanted the question to read “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”. The Electoral Commission however found that the “Do you agree” preface made it a leading question, which would be more likely to garner a positive response. Personally, I still think that the fact I have to disagree with the statement of the present question gives a slight advantage – based our a natural inclination to want to agree rather than disagree.

A third feature of this question is its yes/no response. This is in contrast to a strategic question, where the questions should not be answerable with yes/no. In the case of a vote however, a yes/no question is precisely what is required.

Here again Alex Salmond has used the fact that most of us would much rather say “yes” than “no” to a question to the advantage of the campaign for an indpendent Scotland. This automatically makes the opposing camp the “naysayers”.

It remains to be seen if these strategic advantages will be enough for Alex Salmond to secure the “yes” he so desperately wants. But from a strategic perspective, hats off to him for playing shrewdly.


Shared Passion as an Organizational Force

by Sarah Thrift on May 15, 2014

Take a moment to think about the things in your life that you are passionate about.

Now imagine you could be doing one of those things right now. How do you feel?

Most likely you feel good, energized. If you were feeling tired, then maybe that lifted as you felt the excitement of doing something you love. In a recent survey conducted by Phillips, over 90% of the study’s participants said that being able to connect their passions and personal interests with their work would motivate them to care more about their work and to work harder¹.


Having a passion for something is like a magic spark, igniting us to achieve things we could not otherwise do. We only need to look at great sportspeople or writers or businesspeople to see how a love for what they are doing has fueled their journey.

I love working with people who are passionate about what they are doing. Their passion is infectious. Work doesn’t feel like work, but an expression of what we care about and who we are.
Working with a global humanitarian organization, I was struck by how passionate people were. I was inspired, carried on a whirlwind of excitement generated by the new people I was meeting every day.
Quite quickly though, something else started to emerge. I continued to meet people who were as least as passionate and inspiring. But as I got to understand their passions in more detail, I began to see how these passions led in quite different directions and rarely truly aligned with the organization’s goals. One person’s passions might have only slightly deviated from the organization’s mission and strategy, but iterate these small differences across hundreds of people throughout an organization and the impact was devastating. Passion, instead of propelling the organization forward, was destructively pulling it in conflicting directions.

Having passion is not enough. To fulfill its promise, passion needs to transcend an individual’s personal interests. It needs to create bridges between people. And it needs to inspire actions in service of the organization’s goals.

A first step toward this is for each team member to understand their colleague’s passions. By delving below the surface and appreciating what makes a person love what they love, unexpected areas of shared interest and passion can emerge.

The same approach can be taken with aligning to an organization‘s goals: understanding why they are what they are and seeking ways to meet these goals that build on shared interests. At times, this will mean discontinuing our pet projects in service of a greater goal. But if passion is to be a force for good in our organizations, it also needs to be one which aligns and unites us.



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