Strategic Trends and the Role of Strategists

By Jim Stockmal, International Association for Strategy Professionals Past President

Strategic planners and strategists have for many years focused on environmental factors that may impact their organization either positively or negatively. Whether using a classical PESTEL model – that is the political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal factors – or strategic foresight, we have often considering these macro trends as we develop and/or refresh our strategy. One thing I have observed living in Washington, DC for 25 years is that politics and strategy have become increasingly intertwined and that strategy and tactics are continually in motion – even before the Twitter age.

I was reminded of this after watching the brilliant movie, Mary Queen of Scots. Plenty of gamesmanship, plots, and intriguing alliances in motion, albeit at the speed of the 16th Century. Early on, Mary seemed to have the upper hand “outsmarting” those that did not want her to be Queen. Later, after the Babington Plot of 1586, Mary herself was outsmarted by an entangled web of ciphers and double agents between France, Spain, and Queen Elizabeth’s loyalists. She and her conspirators were all sentenced to gruesome deaths.

I also saw micro resilient strategies in another brilliantly acted film, Green Book. The two main characters, a gifted pianist and his driver who doubled as his body guard could not have been more different in character, personality and station in life. The film was filled with racial hatred and bigotry and I had to pinch myself as I was horrified to see how recently in our country’s history this was the “norm”. They had a plan, a concert tour, yet they had to improvise and adjust tactics wherever they went to survive the bigotry. In 2008 I was so proud of my country in our election, but this film reminded me how deep hatred runs. Like the hatred five centuries ago between religious factions. Maybe we haven’t come as far as a human race as I had hoped.

An article I read recently criticized the new immigration proposals in the UK Parliament for being xenophobic brings home the point. This is one of several trends being discussed in the new edition of the Economist about the failure of globalization that is being tracked by the Dutchman, Adjidj Bakas. He refers to the current state as “slobalization”. Trade wars. Tariffs. Xenophobic policies. Automation. Climate-change induced “stress”. Even a recent Weekend Edition of the Wall Street Journal highlighted the rise of populism taking place across Europe – a “…rebuke of liberal democracy” whether in France, Italy or England.

So as strategists, whether political or business, I think we must continually examine the signals out there, particularly those taking shape politically. We need to think strategically about where we do business and consider the impact of the rise of populism on our business model:

  • How will our supply chains be affected? Do we have alternative sources?
  • Are there alternate markets to sell our goods and services?
  • Do we still have a competitive advantage? Will we in the future?
  • Is our brand at risk? Do we re-brand and have locally operated subsidiaries?

These are just a few of the questions we must consider when looking out upon the political landscapes in which we operate.  Will it be a brave new world? I, perhaps, foolishly so, remain positive and continue to look to the young generation and their enthusiasm, social consciousness, and sense of doing good for others. We must focus on these macro trends now more than ever.

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LBL Strategies Team