Business strategy gets graphic

Author: 
Paul Nolan

As CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute, Rich Horwath works with managers at companies such as FedEx, Google and FOX TV to help them understand the importance of landing on a strategy that everyone in an organization understands and can work to achieve. Now he has put those lessons into a graphic novel, “StrategyMan vs. The Anti-Strategy Squad.”

SMM: Why a graphic novel business book?

Horwath: Ten years ago, I remember sitting in the movie theater watching “The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of the “Batman” comic book franchise. Halfway through the movie, I thought to myself, why can’t I do something this engaging and entertaining? Why does strategy have to be dry and textbookish? That was the moment I said, “What if, instead of a Batman, we created a StrategyMan?”

SMM: Is this a different way of learning for what many would view as a button-down audience?

Horwath: One of the things that I’m always talking with sales and marketing leaders about is that strategy depends on differentiation. How are you unique in a way that your customers value? As I thought about this idea of the graphic novel, it struck me this would be a unique approach, and a valuable approach. Ninety-nine percent of business books are geared toward verbal learners, and as we know, a lot of people are visual learners. I realized that a graphic novel approach to strategy would be tailored to both the visual and the verbal learners.

The other interesting piece of research I came across is that students remember character-driven stories six to seven times better than ordinary words. I figured if we could package strategy and some of the key concepts and tools in a character-driven story, it would give people a lot better chance to remember and use strategy more than once a year, which is typically what most people do.

SMM: The content is meaty. Is it content you have provided in previous books that is repackaged, or is it new information?

Horwath: There is a lot of new research that went into this book, specifically two studies. One was a study with 400 learning and development leaders, who typically will design the training for sales and marketing managers. I wanted to understand from them what they were seeing out there and what they needed. Learning and development leaders said the No. 1 skill set that senior leaders need to have in order to advance in their careers is strategic thinking.

SMM: You create villains, but your message is really that company leaders are often their own worst villain, right?

Horwath: That’s a great way to put it. In fact, Bain & Company did research showing that 94 percent of executives said internal dysfunction was the biggest barrier to continued profitable growth for their company. The internal dysfunction that most companies have – things like bad meetings, silos, fire drills – those things are self-inflicted wounds. I thought if we could personify the top 20 strategy challenges as villains, it would give people a common way to talk about these internal challenges and then provide some tips and techniques to overcome them.

SMM: Is this a read from front to back type of book?

Horwath: My hope is that the story would be engaging enough where some people would do that. Because each chapter ends with a practical tool for people to apply to their business, the hope would be that people will go back and use this as a resource.

The main reason I wrote it is my research and other research shows that less than half of organizations have a common understanding of strategy. Bad strategy is the No. 1 cause of business failure. If you look around the room and the sales team and the marketing team and the HR team don’t have the same vision about strategy, and they’re not talking to each other effectively about strategy, then the chance their business is going to fail is much greater. The hope is that by reading “StrategyMan,” people will pick up tools and techniques that help them navigate and develop better strategies so they can not only survive, but thrive in the long term.

SMM: The writing process had to be completely new to you. Was it difficult?

Horwath: The big challenge was being able to provide dialogue that was content driven, but at the same time is engaging and follows a story path. I created a visual map of the story and basically started at the end. Asked, “where do we want things to end?” and worked my way back.. My hope is that, moving forward, sales and marketing managers will adopt the villain names as they see some of these internal challenges and be able to course correct in a way that gets people engaged to provide their business with a good foundation for success.

“StrategyMan vs. The Anti-Strategy Squad” will be published in September by Greenleaf Book Group.