Signal | Noise

Those who measure success by winning other people’s games are, by definition, destined to lose in the long run. Only by devising our own games, imposing our own rules and choosing our own metrics can we hope to stack life’s unruly deck in our favor. 

But we are evolutionarily primed to pay attention to our peers’ success and failure. To glean lessons from their experience and apply them to our own pursuits. 

Strategists attempt to resolve this paradox by extracting the signal of insight hiding in the noise of good fortune—lucky timing, blessed genes or geography. When these insights prove generalizable, we elevate them to principles.

Evolving in this way through trial and error, strategy is the technology we use to distill, combine and share experience’s most valuable lessons: lessons that prove axiomatic to success.

Smooth Operators

When high-performers distinguish themselves by succeeding consistently, they do so by employing these same principles. But in their hands, the component disciplines of strategy may be employed so elegantly that their detailed, individual application may be lost on us.

Watching an athlete at the peak of their game, the beginner exclaims ‘They make it look so easy!’. Witnessing the same performance, a coach winces internally, recalling relentless cycles of failure and frustration and decades of deliberate practice - the dogged persistence demanded by this momentary triumph.

We instinctively marvel at the skill of the adept. But their apparent ease can disguise as luck or god-given talent the true source of their virtuosity: consistent application, and real-time adaptation, of strategy’s fundamentals.

Those who consistently beat the odds aren’t born prodigies, invincible heroes, or infallible gods. They don’t substitute magical thinking for hard work; worship at the feet of false idols; or delegate their responsibilities to fate. 

What they do share is a strategic orientation towards life’s challenges and opportunities. An equanimity evolved by applying the same fundamental disciplines that inform strategy. 

Focus | Align | Engage | Learn

By cycling the lessons found in experience—focusing our efforts, aligning our resources, engaging in a domain and then learning from our engagements—we earn competence and confidence. 

Leveling-up in this way, we may attain a more profound understanding: viewed with sufficient ownership and agency, the chessboards we choose to play on are always ours to design. 

This mindset matures through repeated exposure to adversity. It takes many rounds of success and failure to build reliable confidence and competence. But with sufficient reps we build character, and eventually, an identity1: ‘Whatever fate throws my way, in the end, I will prevail.’

In this sense, high performers do, literally, bend reality to their own ends. Not by using Jedi mind tricks, but by developing the capacity to seek, identify and secure unassailable strategic positions. They win when they win, while going to great lengths to ensure that they also win when they ‘lose’.

 1 The concept of habits evolving in concert with identity draws heavily on the work of James Clear, author of Atomic Habits.

Control vs. Leadership

As humans facing many complex, ambiguous and unpredictable conditions, we may be forgiven our insistent grasp for control, for security, for all our temporary illusions of certainty. 

As realists, we must concede to messier truths: We will always be managing limited resources, attention and bandwidth. We will seldom, if ever, make difficult decisions with sufficient data on hand. Lurking beyond the straight edged optimism of that Gantt chart, here be dragons. No plan survives the first twenty-four hours' contact with: Monday.

But as leaders, we are obliged to lead. To move the ball down the field. To navigate unmapped territories despite our uncertainty. We have to get the team from A to B. We need to tell Monday it can take a hike. 

Adventures in Strategy

If we aspire to lead, to follow in the footsteps of these unassailable outliers, to prevail in our chosen domain: Why not start down that path informed by the lessons they forged for us along the way?

This is the adventure we invite you to join us on at +coordinates:

Identify strategy’s core insights, distill them into accessible lessons and develop simple, practical tools to implement them. 

Because there’s a profound difference between remaining entirely subject to the winds of fate and engaging those same winds head-on, map and compass in hand, as confident, competent navigators.