The value of the totally obvious

The importance of hiring outside of your organization when focusing on product and user experience strategy. 

Even (and especially) if you have an internal design team.

If you're in an executive role, you've likely been asked to create a strategic vision for your team, product, or service.  While this request feels fun and exciting when it's presented in reality, you're wondering how and where you're going to find time to do this.

 

We know you - you're a high achiever. Your work calendar is booked with eight hours of meetings, you're managing a team, have quarterly initiatives planned and in the works and you want to be the one that presents the most brilliant plan to help your company meet its financial goals.

What you may not know is the unique mindset you'll need for strategy work will be nearly impossible for you to achieve. 

Strategic thinking requires the ability to zoom out to a five thousand foot level in order to see the entire landscape. It's big-picture thinking that often spans across teams, organizations and geographic locations.  You're mired in the day-to-day, have immediate goals to reach, your team is stretched thin and quite frankly your team doesn't have the right skill set to help you with this.

What is the best way for you to pull a rabbit out of your hat and present a vision that is unique, attainable and makes you look like a rockstar?  You hire a seasoned and strategic-minded who is outside your organization to focus on a strategy.  They will be your partner and will come up with ideas neither you or anyone in your organization could have imagined.

How is this possible?

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

– David Foster Wallace

Here are five solid reasons why.

1. Strategic skillset

Strategic thinking at a level that is required to create an organizational strategy is a skillset that most teams don't have.  Why?  Because if you hire a strategic thinker to focus on day-to-day tactical work they will be bored after one week and quit. 

Strategic thinking requires the ability to zoom out to a five thousand foot level to see the entire landscape. It's big-picture, considers the entire journey, all touchpoints and often spans across teams, organizations and geographic locations.  

 

Real strategists need to be focused on meaty problems that most are completely overwhelmed by.  Strategic thinking starts by not knowing the answer, nor where it will be found and the rare bird that does this type of work is comfortable with the tension this creates.  They are masters at storytelling and visually illustrating a vision in order to gain the alignment of cross-functional teams. They present strong perspectives that are grounded in research yet are open to hearing more, learning more, considering more.  They are masters at taking large amounts of information and condensing it into a simple easy to understand narrative. Their unique perspectives will capture the attention of you and your colleagues and inspire new ways of thinking and looking at old problems.

2. Fresh eyes and a beginners mind

To create a unique and inspiring strategy you need fresh eyes that will view everything that is ordinary to you as unique and interesting.  You'll need to dig deep into structures and beliefs that might never been challenged before. Identifying opportunity that has not yet been seen or imagined by people inside of the company.  There is wisdom in knowing you know nothing and an openness to 

I don't know what I don't know.

 

You can't learn what you already think you know.  The only wisdom is knowing you know nothing.

 

and your Fresh questioning of legacy decisions.

3. Broad versus narrow experience

4. Blue sky versus limiting beliefs

Humans are hardwired to be self-centered and look at things through the lens of self.  Therefore internal teams will pay more attention to what's going on inside of themselves and miss what's going on outside.  The internal voice takes over - "we're never going to be able to pull that off", 

5. Politics and org structures

Aligning teams

Validating that the decision you made five years ago still stands up

New tools and ways of working

Guided and informed by internal folks with deep industry and organizational experience.

Why is the obvious so hard to find? 

For over 20 years I have worked as a user experience consultant.  I've seen companies filled with 

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