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What Musical Theatre Can Teach Us About Business Strategy

Musical theatre actors are amazing strategists. The similarities between the types of strategic decisions by a single actor in a musical and someone running a large organization are striking. Those actors make strategic decisions every day and we can learn some very important lessons from them. Let me explain.

Deliberate and Detailed

This week, I had the pleasure of listening to an actor speak about preparing for a recent audition. It was truly amazing. Each of the three main elements of a business strategy were clearly articulated through the choices she described. She had a clear objective for the character. She thought through her advantage – things the casting team wanted that she might be able to bring to the role that someone else may not. She also thought about what others might bring that she might not, and she thought about how to leverage both. But what truly impressed me was her attention to detail in the scope of her strategy.

Even for an audition, acting is more about making choices than I ever imagined. As she spoke about her preparation, the level of detail and the number of clear, deliberate scope choices she had to make was mind-numbing. “Should I deliver this monologue forcefully or softly – even if the character is hardnosed?” “Should I hold this note back in this bar and sing it softly, or blow the audience’s hair back?” “What is my character feeling when she says this – one – word?” “Where would this character look? Where wouldn’t she look?”

Back to Business

Throughout my career, I have helped develop strategies for very small and very large businesses and organizations. I have evaluated business ideas and program pitches, and held a position where it was my job to help many businesses to articulate and improve their strategies. In my experience, the second most common cause of poor performance was not being deliberate about scope. (The first was not truly having a strategy, but that’s a topic for another article.)

Like this actor, businesses need to make deliberate choices about what they will – and will not – do. They need deliberate answers to questions like:

• Which components will we build? Which won’t we build?
• Which components will we buy?
• Where will we build it? Where will we buy it?
• Which customers will we serve?
• Which potential customers will we deliberately not serve?

It would surprise you how often teams have no answer to either of the last two items.

Which languages (human and programming) to support, which geographies… at times it may feel as if the list is infinite. Though, your choices must be deliberate. Failure to make deliberate choices is abdicating your strategy to “luck”. While my father used to joke that he’d “rather be lucky than good” at anything, as a strategy, that one does not have a great track record of success.

Be Deliberate

The next time you’re thinking through strategy put yourselves in the shoes of our actor. The casting team liked what they saw, and they’ve called you back so they can see more. The stakes are high and you’ve decided you’re “not throwing away your shot”! So “Rise up!”, and:

• Ensure your strategy has a clear objective
• Clearly articulate your own advantage and how you can leverage it
• Make clear, deliberate choices about what is in scope, and what is not
• “Listen to the data” as you deploy; things might not be as you thought they were
• Inspect and adapt; things change, and your strategy will need to evolve


About the Author – George Watt

A transformative leader, George has spearheaded initiatives that have enabled businesses and global enterprises to address complex technology problems, deliver new business benefits, and drive millions of dollars in savings and productivity gains.

He has delivered innovations of his own such as a knowledge base for a neural network-based predictive performance management solution, one of the earliest private clouds (2005), and a lightweight event management agent.

As VP of Strategy for a multi-billion-dollar technology company he was responsible for global scientific research, worldwide innovation initiatives, and the design and operation of an innovative accelerator program.

George is co-author of “The Innovative CIO” and “Lean Entrepreneurship”, and tweets as @GeorgeDWatt.

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George WattWhat Musical Theatre Can Teach Us About Business Strategy
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Digital Identity Needs User Experience

I have always wondered why we don’t have our driver’s licenses on our phones. Why do I have to carry my wallet still? Why can’t it be digital? We had the privilege of attending the Canadian Cybersecurity and Identity Expo 2019 this past year. The event brought together a fantastic group of people to talk about the big questions in our industry. One of the biggest problems posed was this: “Does digital Identity need user experience?” With the collaboration of private and public institutions with our citizens, we concluded that we could create an experience that is trusted and respected. To achieve this, we must be human-centered when we are designing Digital Identity systems.

Human-centric design is essential when we design these ecosystems. To create successful systems, we need to change the way we interact with the people that use them. Does this pose a design problem? We humbly think so. We believe that designing our solutions with a focus on the people who will use them is an essential part of the creation of trust and usability.

While at the expo, we sat in on a break-out session being run by Blackberry. The running joke was that they had not made phones in years. Interestingly, what Blackberry has been making is remarkable software ranging from two-factor authentication and device management to collaborative workspaces. One thing that struck me from this presentation was that one of the presenters had UX in every single one of his slides. When we asked him why, he said these words: “User Experience is what makes Digital Identity possible.”

Imagine this scenario: You are about to go on a trip overseas, and you need to apply for a passport because you have never had one before. How do you go about doing it? Luckily, the government website explains how to do this in a few steps. But why do you need to go to their website, fill out a form, find two guarantors, gather your identity verifying documentation, find a place that will take passport photographs, take the picture, wait for the picture to get signed by someone waiting, and then take it to a Service Canada location only to wait for someone to tell you it take two to four weeks and that it will arrive in the mail, which assumes that you have a home where you can receive it?

Wouldn’t it be a much better experience if all you had to do was show up at Service Canada and let them know that you applied for a passport and that you’re there to pick it up or place it in your digital wallet?

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Sercan KumDigital Identity Needs User Experience