Nelson's battle of Trafalgar strategy

Magnified Force

Introducing Strategy Canvas

When we founded the Innovation Lab, our ambition was limitless. Our resources were not. We needed a strategy, ...but what does strategy look like? A spreadsheet? A business plan? A mission? A target? A motivational poster? These are products of strategy, not the real, force magnifying, thing.

This article explains the essential elements of strategy that comprise the Strategy Canvas.

Strategy Canvas is indebted to the work of leading thinkers and doers (notably, Richard Rumelt). There is a link to credits at the bottom of the page, please check it out.

Canvas elements

The Strategy Canvas reflects the architecture of successful strategy.

The layout contains the following elements:
  • Challenge, a clearly defined goal, describing the challenge, not the solution.
  • Coherent Actions, steps, designed to carry out the guiding policy, and coordinated with one another to achieve maximum effect toward achieve the challenge.
  • Guiding Policy, providing an overall approach to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis, and determining the set of coherent actions.
  • Diagnosis, defining the nature of the challenge, simplifying the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as critical, and providing the foundation of guiding policy.
  • Tagline, at the top of the canvas conveys the essence of the strategy in a catchy phrase.

1. Challenge

"If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up somewhere else."
-Yogi Berra, philosopher poet

The Challenge statement sets the scope and direction.

The Challenge statement should:
  • get immediate buy-in from stakeholders
  • describe the challenge, not the solution
  • define the problem space
  • look outward (not inward)
  • play to win

2. Diagnosis

"The diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as critical"
- Richard Rumelt, strategist

The Diagnosis describes the nature of the challenge.

The information and expertise needed for an accurate diagnosis is often scattered throughout an organisation, across Design, Finance, Engineering, Sales, Customer Support, etc. Pre-mortems are a great tool to capture this existing knowledge

3. Guiding Policy

“Good strategy like a lever that magnifies force.”
- Richard Rumelt, strategist

Guiding Policy is a set of decision-making rules, designed to concentrate energy and resources.  

Guiding Policy calls for imagination and inspiration. After Diagnosis is complete, a single set of rules can present itself as the obvious route to victory; but this path will also be obvious to your competitors. The best Guiding Policy is surprising.

4. Coherent Actions

Coherent Actions put Guiding Policy into effect.

Actions are coherent in that the sum impact of all the actions together should be a multiple of the impact of all the actions individually. Like an organisation roadmap, Coherent Actions specify concrete deliverables; unlike roadmaps however, they do not have strict chronology. Rather, they are performed in concert with one another, coordinated to achieve maximum effect.

5. Tagline

"Pell Mell Battle"
- Lord Admiral Nelson, Battle of Trafalgar

In the heat of battle, taglines keep strategy top-of-mind.

The Tagline is a catchy phrase to help people remember the strategy. It should reflect the insight behind the strategy, and remind team members in the heat of battle of the relevance of their individual efforts.

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