I was a twenty-year old Airman First Class driving some even younger airmen to dinner on a midnight shift. We were not supposed to be without a sergeant, but the dining hall was only open so long and we had to get “chow relief” finished.
Our supervisor, seeing a truck full of relatively new airmen without a sergeant, called in a security exercise. We had to respond to a building and secure the outside. As the most senior person in the truck I had to direct the response. We arrived, we deployed in a textbook way. Our supervisor called us together, “A1C Bechtold, you showed confidence as you deployed your men to secure the building.”
I was waiting for the big compliment! “However, you failed the exercise.” As he turns to walk away he adds, “you were supposed to respond to the building across the street.”
My supervisor wasn’t concerned with our knowledge of security tactics, he was concerned we had not learned our way around the airbase at midnight. We had failed to recognize the real problem our supervisor saw, we did not have an effective way to give everyone a dinner break without sacrificing our security response. Because we had failed to recognize this constraint we erred in how we solved the problem.
Problem solving can be far more effective if we invest some time in understanding the problem.
Writing a strategic narrative helps us identify the right things for us to work on. Leadership defines what is very important, what do we need and why do we need it? A narrative helps us understand why we should focus energy on this mission.
The narrative also describe the Tactical Constraints and Strategic Exclusions. Tactical Constraints may be design, time, resources, investment, regulations, people or other constraints on the type of solutions we are looking for.
Strategic Exclusions are types of solutions we are NOT interested in.
So, if we set boundaries don’t we limit our creativity?
If you are so prescriptive with your boundaries that there is no freedom then you will only get back the idea that you defined. Done right, constraints and exclusions will cause deeper thinking about the problem. They reduce wasted effort and increase motivation by providing greater clarity on what your organization really needs and why. And they are a wonderful way of identifying opportunities for business model innovation.
Albert Einstein purportedly said, “if I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 days to define it.” We may or may not be as efficient as Einstein in creating solutions, but certainly if we do a better job of defining the problem we will do a better job of solving the problem.
When working with a client on a strategic narrative I personally like using an Innovation Engineering Blue Card use the the link below to download a pdf version.