I have never seen anybody become good at strategy without practice. Strategy is a discipline. And like any discipline, you have to believe in it and work at it to become skilled.
The key to the strategy mindset is to view business life as not entirely random. While it is sometimes necessary to revisit choices more often than we’d like, having a strategy that can be revised is always better than simply letting things happen as they may.
Businesses will evolve and change in ways that make last month’s or last year’s investment decisions look ill-informed. This will happen no matter how smart you are. A true strategist understands that just because some bets turn out to be wrong doesn’t mean that the future is entirely unpredictable.
If the first requirement for being an accomplished strategist is belief, the second is work, work and more work. This means making strategy choices, seeing how they play out and learning from them. Strategy is part art and part science – a heuristic, not an algorithm.
That’s why it requires practice – and the form of that practice is critical. You’ve got to set out your logic regarding a decision in advance (“I think consumers will react in a particular way when I introduce this product because …”), and then watch what actually happens. This is the only way you’ll learn.
And when I say setting out your logic, I mean actually writing it down in advance, not just thinking it through. If you don’t do this, you’ll just end up convincing yourself that everything worked out the way you thought it would – and you’ll learn nothing.
Of course, you can’t entirely eliminate chance. That’s why lots of practice is required – so you can build up your analytical and observational skills. The more you practice, the less exposed to chance you’ll be.
Bottom line: If you believe that you can succeed more often than not in dealing with the inherent uncertainty of the future, and you practice at laying out your logic, making strategic choices and assessing the outcomes, you’ll become an accomplished strategist.
(Roger Martin is the dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. He is the author of “Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works.’’)