#3 Take a scientific approach

Dogmas for making strategy work
This article was originally co-authored by

18 June 2018

Strategy is about making choices. Great choices can only be made if the underlying reasoning is rock solid. That is why we must bring science into the art of strategy. To increase the odds of success, you must work like a scientist by identifying and validating the most critical assumptions that need to hold true for your strategy to work. Do it systematically through carefully designed fact-based tests.

Real strategy is based on validated assumptions.

Dogma core ideas

81% of executives believe that data should be at the heart of all decision-making. We agree and firmly believe that you should take a data-driven approach to strategy. However, according to our experience, the traditional approach is broken. It is fundamentally unscientific.

Most strategies are developed by crunching numbers and studying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Based on the findings and intense discussions, vision and goals are determined, and conclusions about the best strategy are made. It seems like a great approach, and it has been taught at business schools for decades.

But if we think about it, there is a major issue. From a methodological point of view, the approach is flawed and does not adhere to the most basic principles of the scientific method.

The upfront analysis will surely help shape a strategy – a hypothesis about the future. But the up-front analysis does not prove that the suggested strategy is a good choice. To prove the strategy, you must test it like a scientist. In other words, once you have designed a potential strategy, you must ask the fundamental question:

What would have to be true for this to be the right strategy?

This question will enable you to identify the underlying assumptions which must hold true. It is crucial that key decision-makers are involved in the process. Together, you will be able to agree on the most uncertain and important assumptions. Those assumptions must be tested and proven in a systematic manner. Only then can you claim that data have been put at the heart of decision-making.

Design future strategies and test them like a scientist to create a sound basis for decision and increase the odds of success.

Discover the dogmas for making strategy work

Dive into our booklet on the 8 dogmas you can use to create better strategies.


Dogma perspectives

The world’s top management thinker Roger Martin advocates for the use of assumptions and solid fact-based testing.

Roger Martin on SWOT-analysis. Is it hot or not?

Go to Roger Martin’s HBR article where you can gain deeper insights and inspiration on how to use the scientific approach when working with strategy.

Dogma key questions

  • Do we ask the question “What would have to be true?” before deciding and prioritising our analytical resources to answer the most critical assumptions?

  • Do we involve all decision-makers in asking the question “What would have to be true”?

  • Do we use data and testing to verify what we already know or to learn, understand and deepen our strategic choice?

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