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Why is a Strategy Like a Writing Desk? (Exclusive for SoDA)

by Gil Rodriguez, Terralever / July 24, 2013

Note: This blog entry is available in English only.

This article is part of our new series of original thought leadership articles written by SoDA members exclusively for the SoDA blog.


Why is a strategy like a writing desk?

Business people love the word “strategy.” It’s smart, it sounds important, and for some reason, people respond to it. But what does the word actually mean, and how can you make it work for you? This article will take a look at the inner workings of business strategy creation. Surprisingly, it’s an awful lot like buying an unpronounceable piece of furniture from IKEA.

The Swedish home goods giant is a trendy place to explore, but as any IKEA shopper knows, making purchases is not quite a streamlined experience. After finding your favorite desk in the showrooms, you must find it again in the warehouse. And when you strap it to your car and finally bring it home, you will undoubtedly encounter a minor problem: Everything comes unassembled, and the directions probably aren’t in English. Your only choice is to try to follow the diagrams and hope your new desk doesn’t end up looking like a new bed.

Strategy engagement can be a very similar experience.


You saw that beautiful desk on display as you wandered through the store yesterday. Now, you’re finally letting the mess of planks and screws scatter across the living room floor.

This is much like taking a good look at what problems need to be solved. It’s probably a bit overwhelming. At this point, however, you have two options: Commit to building a comprehensive strategy, or do what you think you’re supposed to do while calling it “strategy.” Will you make a plan, or will you jump in with accounts in every social media platform you can think of? Many decision-makers find themselves falling into the latter group. “We’re going to be the best in the market!” they cry, thinking that if they just throw their name across the internet enough, success will simply have to follow.

Unfortunately, that’s the same as looking at the pile of wood and nails and yelling, “This will be a desk!” while watching for signs of life. The “strategy” might sound compelling and will pull at the heart strings, but without a good plan of action, that desk will remain a heap of ineffective tactics.

Takeaway: Begin with a thorough review of all the pieces to understand as much as you can about the business and the competitive landscape. Define your goals. Redefine them.


Being the smart leader you are, you know that emotions without logic are fruitless. It’s time to make a plan.

This is when you start sorting out the pieces. A pile of planks and a pile of woodscrews begin to emerge, and slowly, chaos begins to look like something manageable.

Believe it or not, your strategy will work the same way. Your overarching goal might be to rule the market, but how will you get there? It’s time to look at problems for what they are and begin organizing. Once your problems are identified, you can begin considering solutions. And once you organize those solutions, you will have the makings of a great strategy.

But throughout the planning process, remember to keep sight of your end goal. Two pieces might seem like they were made for each other, but if they don’t actually contribute to the final desk, putting them together is pointless.

Takeaway: Categorize your pieces and see the strategy begin to take shape. Look at all of the elements holistically and developed focused approaches that align with the overall business goals.


At last, you screw up your courage and you screw in the first plank.

You’ve done all the heavy lifting. Your action plan is beautiful, and you know it backward and forward. This is the moment when you get to see if your brilliance will stand in the face of adversity.

The first piece is always the hardest. If you mess this one up, will it ruin your whole desk? But once you’ve put it together, you and your team will gain the confidence to move onto the next step. And the next one.

Of course, the prudent builder keeps an eye on the finish line throughout the whole process. Don’t get so caught up in placing pieces that you forget what you’re building.

Takeaway: After you have defined the strategic approaches, select the best mix of channels and tactics to begin building the executable plan with associated key performance metrics.


Congratulations! You have a desk. Or, perhaps a functional strategy that maps back to your goals and achieves ROI (hurrah!). Everything worked together beautifully and you can finally invite your friends to come see it.

While the job is never really finished (that other room could probably use a new desk, too), you have fought through strategy engagement from beginning to end. The thing is, strategy engagement involves a bit of blood, sweat, and tears. It can be a mess to sort through, but if you’re willing to put in the brainwork, it will pay off.

Takeaway: The process is ongoing. Refer back to your strategy regularly throughout the campaign, and manage and refine it based on analytics and performance. With one eye on your strategy and the other on the market, you will begin to see your goals become reality. And even more importantly, when problems arise, you’ll be ready.




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