“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Michael E. Porter

Without strategy, we’re at sea without a rudder.

Wherever the wind blows, that’s where we’ll drift.  And it’s not just us, but our clients will inevitably follow.

If we want to be leaders of influence—strategy cannot be a feature. We don’t charge extra for a fresh scoop of strategy. It’s essential to creating professional work and earning the trust of our clients. To put it in the context of this article: strategy is the rudder that turns projects (and relationships) one way or another.

A word of warning: our ability to make strategic decisions lies not with our technical proficiency, but with what lies between our ears.

As a designer, it’s not my ability to draw a red box that makes me valuable to a client. Lots of people can draw red boxes! In order to earn trust with a client, I need to know when and why a red box is (or isn’t) appropriate. I need to be able to articulate and defend my decisions.  I need to know which decisions are the most valuable to our clients.

Like any other skill, strategic thinking needs to be learned and honed. And it’s a worthy endeavor—cultivating a strategic mind will refine all aspects of our professional life. When we learn to make better decisions, we produce better work.

The best place to start is to learn from others. The paths we tread daily have been walked on by others. The challenges we face are not unique. When we surround ourselves with experienced professionals, we are apt to learn from their wisdom, from their successes, and even (perhaps especially) from their mistakes. This inevitably allows us to learn from our own.

I have found that my ability to make better and more strategic decisions is directly proportional to my ability to ask the right questions.  Asking the right questions is a byproduct of experience—both my own and applying the wisdom of others.

If we are serious about helping our clients, we need to be thoughtful and strategic advisors. I promise, we won’t always be right. But that’s no excuse for setting sail without a rudder.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.