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The Importance of Satire

Satire and Strategy

February 4, 2022

Two of my favorite shows recently are “Succession” and “Billions.” They are not only well written, but both contain elements of very relevant and biting social commentary that are entertaining and thought-provoking. Both employ elements of satire, but in different ways — and it has had me thinking about the importance of the use of different cognitive realms and how they can help you look at strategy more dynamically.

Intuitive improvisation, or what a lot of comedians use to make us laugh, is a useful skill to have — it is a dynamic form of thinking on your feet, addressing a specific set of circumstances. Almost like solving for “y”, from a set of variables to produce a desirable solution. It takes skill to do this effectively, as well as a strongly developed sense of reading non-verbal signals, and anticipation (and design) of a reaction.

Thinking Deeper with Satire

Satire, when employed in the ways the aforementioned shows do, can not only help illustrate a wide array of issues in a more passive, enjoyable and contextual way, but provide counterpoints that provoke thought in a non-confrontational environment of deeper thinking.

Thinking differently about something or consideration of a counterpoint can create discomfort — it is certainly less difficult to accept certain concepts on their surface merits. But I would argue that thinking about something in a very non-traditional way — or even making light of it in order to understand a different dimension of the issue at hand — is a constructive and creative way to unearth an idea or concept you may not have anticipated.

Both “Succession” and “Billions” are, on their surface, about business empires. But that is really a container to help interface complex family interplay, human dynamics and how the different motivations behind making money impacts these factors.

The satire on these shows is not always obvious. The characters are at times likable, and their situations are plausible. But if you get past the general comfort (or discomfort) created by the personal characteristics, the actual themes and subject matter are being considered from an altered point of view. Things that are exaggerated to an extreme. Behavior that is absurd. But these hyperbolic elements are framed as amusing, which lowers the barrier for accessing the social commentary that they are communicating.

So, how does this relate to strategy. Let’s file this under “don’t take this stuff too seriously.” That’s surprisingly accurate. I have found that by finding ways to make light of an idea or a point, the work being done to make that effective — the intuitive improvisation — allows me the opportunity to understand the point better. The satire is the exploration. It is the mechanism to consider something in a non-conforming way — a broader view.

Both shows I cited above have made me think of human interactions related to business differently. They are smart, thoughtful, and generate though in ways that aren’t traditional or anticipated. As you are considering strategy for your effort, think about things a bit satirically from time to time — it may help you appreciate what your objective is in a very different way.

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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.