The death of strategy.

April 4, 2022

A beast of mythical proportions.

I know what you’re probably thinking. Strategy can’t possibly be dead because I hear that word at least 600 times a day at the office. And you’re right, strategy isn’t dead, but the word seems to be losing its luster. So, what the hell does a hippie creative think about strategy anyway? I hope you’ll stick around and find out.

But what does it mean?

Strategy is simply the plan to achieve a goal.

My concern is with the rampant overuse and swollen sense of specialization of the word. Not with its meaning or real-world value. Despite how it’s constantly used, honest-to-goodness strategy simply doesn’t exist within every aspect of every task. And it can’t simply be removed from a project and pivoted into a new direction with no repercussions. Strategy doesn’t sit on the surface—it’s structural. And if it can be obliterated on a whim, chances are there wasn’t much going on in the first place. Does overusing a term like strategy bring it top-of-mind, or does it actually kill its value over time? Personally, I feel it’s the latter. Strategy has huge value and I’m not arguing otherwise, but I do have a few thoughts on how we might keep it from becoming a buzzword.

1. You don’t need to be a “strategist” to be a strategist.
Most of the best strategists I’ve worked with weren’t “strategists”, but simply hard-working thinkers who provided solutions to the problem at hand—regardless of their title or profession. That doesn’t mean there aren’t great “strategists” out there, just reevaluate the unicorn image.

2. Make an effort to not overuse the word where you can.
If you use a word excessively it can’t carry true weight. Eventually, it becomes a buzzword, or worse, a joke. It’s like using an exclamation point at the end of every sentence. It’s rendered meaningless over time and nobody wants that. Overuse makes the real strategy you worked hard for appear less valuable or not valuable at all. Instead of saying strategy all the time, consider talking more about the problem, solution, and simply asking why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. I have seen this small change work wonders over the years. A similar example we face in the design industry is avoiding the word “like”. Like is a safety word that’s easy to hide behind when giving design feedback. When you can’t rely on using terms such as “like” or “don’t like”, it really makes you open your vocabulary, be less subjective, and focus on the why—and that’s damn valuable.

3. Design and strategy are fundamentally connected.
The relationship between design and strategy is symbiotic, one can’t exist without the other. Hold up, designers aren’t strategists though, right? Wrong. Remember, you don’t need to be a “strategist” to be a strategist. I’m not saying each design choice is a game-changing solution, but good design is driven by many choices that support the ultimate goal. Decisions, even small ones, should be made with the end solution in mind.

Let’s do our best to keep strategy alive.

To wrap things up, I’d like to say that my views are through the lens of a creative professional. As a creative, I think that all good creative work is strategic—or at least I’d like it to be. But let’s be honest, the industry tends to inflate and hyper-value strategy to a point that undermines its worth. It’s no surprise many have become gun-shy with agencies and their miracle elixir strategies—but that’s an entirely different post. As an industry, let’s make an effort to keep the term and its value alive while having some fun along the way.