R:Evolution 4.0: Mapping your strategy – when visuals are better than words

Simon Wardley, Researcher at Leading Edge Forum and former CEO of Fotango (acquired by Canon in 2001) gave us his views on alternate ways to view business strategy in the modern day. Simon is of the strong opinion that the best way to determine and execute a strategy is to use a visual map rather than the often-used methods of feasibility studies and SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) analyses. His view is that the most useful maps used in business should contain the following:

  • Visual representation rather than text cues
  • Background context to set the business landscape
  • A specific anchor point where the business or issue sits within the context of this landscape
  • A display of all the possible movements the business could take from this anchor point, shown in a clear manner
  • Detail of the components, both internal and external, required to make this move

Rather than a SWOT or other text-based analysis, Simon’s view is that visual maps can be a better guide to the decision-making process. These maps should feed into a cycle of strategy making and ought to be constantly updated and refined. Maps allow clear, visual direction – illustrating a business’ understanding and exploitation of the landscape in which it business sits. It is exponentially more useful than looking at the issue with a SWOT diagram.

Of course, we don’t expect to see a business plan created out of Google Maps. However, the theory behind this example remains: how succinctly you can explain your plan, identify the challenges and opportunities and map out your route to success is all down to the way you visualise the landscape that allows you to adapt to changes.

After all, strategy should not be viewed as a linear path to get from A to B, but as a continuous circular process. Simon’s overriding message is: when running a business, always keep front of mind that all forward looking models are inherently wrong; pick out those that may be useful to help guide you in the short term. This is particularly applicable for young and growing businesses where the competitive landscape is forever changing as new companies and technologies emerge. Using a visual map to guide initial business strategy is particularly helpful in seeing where your company might fit within different competitive, funding or operational landscapes. When starting and growing a business, these are key areas which need to be considered in detail. Indeed, when it comes to pitching to prospective investors, visual guides to your strategy and competitive advantage can be incredibly useful, and a visual map may form a part of this.

Simon’s alternative perspective was this: visualising your business strategy is particularly useful for businesses operating around the retail space as the industry is in a protracted period of change and those that have historically been successful are no longer guaranteed success – unless they can adapt to a position where there is a meaningful place in the next generation of retail. This provides real competitive advantage to younger and more agile companies acting as disruptors in this arena. Whether that be in relation to the next generation of e-commerce, in-store experience, digital marketing or customer engagement, a visualisation map could be particularly useful.

Watch Simon’s speech at R:Evolution 4.0 here.

Find out more about R:Evolution here.