1) They are interested in lots of things
All the best strategists I know have something in common. They are interested in lots of things. All kinds of things. And all kinds of people.
They’re very, very unlikely to ever be bored. There’s always something to read or watch or listen to or discover or do. Or just think about.
They like the mundane differences and similarities in life. They like listening. They love a good story. They like thinking about those things that unify people and they like idiosyncrasies and weirdnesses.
Almost everything, for them, is a potential strategy.
They read everything they can around a subject or a category. And a load of stuff which is only very vaguely relevant. Because you never know.
When you say ‘have you thought about this/seen this/read this?’ they usually say ‘yes’.
They make a point of talking to real people about the subject or product or service. They don’t use themselves as the target audience.
The best strategists are always able to get ‘into’ a category and/or a brand. The point is to find a way to make often seemingly somewhat dull subjects interesting and engaging to people and I think you have to be able to do this for yourself, first.
2) They don’t make it up
The second thing is that they don’t make it up. They don’t sit in rooms and have isolated, grandiose, intellectual thoughts. They read and they search and they keep looking and finding more stimuli.
They talk to people. They ask real people what they think. They are magpies. They keep looking for ideas, refinements, nuances, bits of glitter. They feed ideas and people.
They also tackle every problem as a new one. They don’t say, ‘I know the answer to this because it’s the same as brand x or y’. Every problem and every brand is different and deserves a bespoke answer. They understand that context is important and that no two situations are ever the same. That’s part of the excitement.
That said, they have hunches. And they keep looking for evidence.
3) They are interested in the nuts and bolts of how a business works
They know that understanding the problem correctly is the first vital step. They are usually the people saying, ‘hang on a minute. Let’s not run off and do something without working our what it is that really needs doing”.
They want to understand how businesses make money in order to really show how their strategies can impact this positively.
They understand stakeholders and internal politics and how to get strategic and creative ideas to gather pace and momentum. They know how to bring other people with them.
Bringing great strategies to life with brilliant work takes tens or even hundreds of people. And they know this.
They are not purists, or islands. They know they sometimes you’ve got to make sacrifices and they know which ones they can make, without it all falling apart.