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It's Not the Shoes

Putting in the Work

August 31, 2020

In the early ‘90s, there was an ad for Air Jordan basketball sneakers where the character played by Spike Lee asked Michael Jordan repeatedly if his shoes were the reason he was such a great player. He kept responding no, that wasn’t it.

Appearances can be deceiving. Just as a certain shoe cannot guarantee performance, such is the case with strategy. Some strategic plans suffer heavily from jargon, too little or too much complexity or so many graphics/pictures/illustrations and diagrams that they seem to be very elegantly dressed, but do not contain the content, structure or organization needed in key areas with the right level of development to be executed and measured.

It is important to note that you do indeed need some sort of basketball shoe to play basketball. But this alone is no guarantee of a surefire positive outcome. The purpose of any tool or accessory is to optimize and enhance the base material, put the pieces of something together and/or synthesize an outcome from external parts.

Let’s extend this further: If I want to get better at basketball, I practice. I watch what my teammates do, I practice with them, I learn about the game. Then, when I am ready, in theory, I start to play more competitively using the tools and the vernacular environment of the game. My ability to play is rooted in this — the content and refinement — what I have developed from data and skills.

The Importance of Putting in the Work

If I didn’t practice, or, worse yet, if I showed up for a game after watching a single YouTube video on basketball and developed vast overconfidence as a result, it would make very little difference what kind of sneakers I had on. The fact would remain that I didn’t do the work I needed to do to play well. I only focused on the cosmetic components.

I love sneakers. I always have. When I go to Foot Locker and look at the newest pair of high tops, I am seduced by the idea that I will be able to immediately have a 36” vertical leap, or that I will be able to dunk from the free throw line. But, when I get the sneaker on my foot, I also realize almost immediately that this is not the case.

Good strategic plans are no different. If you put in the work and build out something based on this work, you’ll have a good outcome. Graphics, charts, etc. are great enhancements. But they are there to leverage the core material, which should be well developed and clearly written. It should include all the components needed for implementation and a structure to measure successful outcomes. If all of these pieces exist, then the tools that are used to complement them will accentuate and highlight, rather than distract, misdirect, obfuscate and confuse.

It’s never the shoes. The shoes are a container — a tool to work with much more important components. At the most basic level, the shoe is only as good as the player whose foot goes into it.

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Joe Benesh

Joe Benesh is the President and CEO of The Ingenuity Company, located in Des Moines. The Ingenuity Company specializes in Strategic Planning, Diagramming, Organizational Design Thinking, and Leadership/Change Facilitation. He also teaches strategic planning at the University of Iowa in the MBA Program.