Strategy is not a short lived endeavour. It is the mechanism to make sense of chaos and to achieve success over the long term. But staying focused on a long term objective and executing consistently is difficult. It needs single minded purpose. It needs a clear understanding of objectives and expected outcomes. It needs inspiration. And it needs stamina.
Inspiration is valued in our culture. Creative ideas are the things that get us hired, and rightly so. What is less obvious in an industry that is focused on short term gain is not the ability to execute, but rather the stamina required to do so consistently over a long period of time.
Ours is a flighty industry. As digital professionals we are easily distracted by the next big thing or the shiny new opportunity. We see this in employment patterns, where people feel the need to change job and employer every year. There is considerably less value placed today with the idea of staying in a position or with a company for an extended period of time. Much of this responsibility sits with the employer; people move in part because they are not challenged or don’t feel valued. But part of the responsibility needs to sit with the employee in not understanding the virtue and benefit of seeing through a role or task into the long term.
Why don’t people want to see things through? I think part of the reason is fear that eventually things won’t work out and that success is short lived in digital marketing. This fear leads people to think tactically in short term increments; “I will focus on delivering against this short term objective, and once I do so I will use that to say I have been successful”. But more than that, I think the reason people don’t see through initiatives, projects or roles over the long term is because it’s just too hard to do so. It takes a lot of stamina to do so.
I look at this blog and podcast as an example of this. There are days when I lack inspiration, or when I am so exhausted from my work that the last thing I want to do is to write, record and edit this content. But I find the stamina through a simple mechanism that I have applied in my work and that keeps me focused on consistently delivering over the long term.
The first step is to be very clear on why you are engaging in a role or an initiative. The ‘why’ is critical because it is the thing that we use to re-focus our efforts when it becomes difficult to continue. For me, the reason I choose to work the way I do is to build the best possible future for myself, my family, my peers, team members and clients. This is why I work. It is tangible and real, not nebulous and vague. The reason I choose to work on this blog and podcast is to support the development of strategists in this industry. This is what I remind myself when I becomes overwhelmed or discouraged.
The next step is to figure out what you are going to do to achieve your objective. As we have explored before, We break this down between over-arching long term objectives and a series of short term objectives. This is really important in finding the stamina to continue, because it makes it more manageable by making it more tangible and achievable. For example, it is almost impossible to deliver on a ten-year objective if you don’t break it down to annual objectives, with an understanding of how each annual objective ladders up and contributes to achieving the long term objective. These annual objectives need to be based on progression of achievement and career if you are going to stick around. To do otherwise is to feel that you are stuck in a rut and demotivates you. For me in my work, I am very clear about what I want to achieve in the long term, and I have clearly defined what I need to achieve each year in order to get there. And yes, it is varied and progressive.
But it is also important to remember that there will be setbacks. The path is not smooth and unhindered. This is where stamina is critical; to keep going in spite of the bumps in the road. If the obstacles prove to be insurmountable, then it is time to adjust your short term objectives, as long as they still ladder up to the long term vision.
By being clear on why you are working on a given task, what you want to achieve and by breaking this down into tangible and varied parts, this is how you build and maintain the stamina to succeed over the long term. And that is the mark of the strategist, the ability to envision a long term deliverable, and to achieve it.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.