Why all strategists should fight or lift weights to learn about making shit happen

tom donaldIn this guest post, Tom Donald argues that strategists should face the reality of regular combat.

“The goal is not the thing itself. Talking about it is not execution. Please stop confusing goals and plans with the actual doing of things.” @GymJones

Too often ‘developing strategy’ is a bookish, quasi-academic exercise. Purple Cows are thrown into Blue Oceans to find the Tipping Point that will Nudge the Herd to Eat The Big Fish.

Correspondingly, self-proclaimed ‘strategists’ are often aloof, elite and too removed from the reality of closing sales and making shit happen.

Certainly too few marketing strategists have ever made anything, sold anything or been hands-on responsible for the execution of their plans. The cock is never on the block.  And this is why they confuse planning with doing.  (Which, in turn, is why they drive creatives and clients crazy, but that’s another story…)

But I’ve recently figured out a solution for ensuring your planners or strategists never confuse thinking with doing.  Firstly, try and hire strategists who have owned a business. Secondly, try and hire ex-salespeople.  Failing that – and this is the crux of the solution as there are rarely enough ex-salespeople or ex-business owners available – only hire strategists who lift weights, or play competitive individual sports, ideally combat sports.

Why? Because (to quote Henry Rollins) “the iron never lies to you”. You either pick it up, or you don’t.  You achieve your goal, or you don’t.  Strategizing and thinking will not get the bar off the ground.  The task is clearly in the doing.

The same applies to competitive individual sports. You win, or you don’t.  You can’t post-rationalise away a failed outcome – “the director screwed it up”, “the client’s an idiot”, etc – because if you lose it was because they were better than you and you alone. End of story.  You have to take responsibility for the outcome, positive or negative, hence the genius of weights and fighting: they force you to face reality on a regular basis.

So to make your planning or strategy department better, mandate they go to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes or lift some weights.  You’ll sort the wheat from the chaff in no time.

Some wise words from Joe Rogan on the power of martial arts:

“Of all the shit I’ve done in my life… becoming really good at Jiu Jitsu is probably one of the most difficult things a person can do and I think it helps me with everything I do. I think the more I train and the more I meet people who are in Jiu Jitsu and train on a regular basis, they’re healthier people. Their egos are healthier. Especially men. They’re easier to talk to. They’re easier to hang out with. Because they’re facing reality on a regular basis.

“Something that my Tae Kwon Do teacher told me when I was a little kid that I never forgot was that martial arts are a vehicle for developing your human potential. And nothing in my life has ever put me in face with reality better than Jiu Jitsu. In life, we can all distort our perception of things in order to make ourselves more comfortable, in order to make ourselves accept where we are. And there’s a lot of people out there that are running around in life full of shit. You can’t be full of shit when you do Jiu Jitsu. When you do Jiu Jitsu, its impossible to be full of shit because reality comes at you in the purest form possible: A life or death struggle.”

  • Tom Donald is a planning director at Droga5. He writes about planning, drugs, sex and death at Punk Rock Shop.


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