The Canadian federal election has done its darnedest to sum it up for us. With strategic voting largely the tactic many feel obliged to resort to in order to oust our current white bread, fear-monger of a leader, we can’t help but notice that the notion of doing it this way doesn’t feel so good. In our flawed electoral system lacking proportional representation or its facsimile, freeing up the leadership position isn’t as simple as voting for the leader of the party we’d like if winning, for them, seems unlikely. How many of us feel about voting strategically ought to be where we cast a focus, never mind a vote. Our hearts aren’t in the game when we’re not feeling good, and as we all ought to know by now, that’s never a good thing. When NDP, or Green Party supporters for instance, feel the need to cast their vote to the Liberals because they’ve the highest probability of jettisoning Mr. Harper from office, it looks to me like maybe we have a wee morality issue at the crux of our poll-watching strategy. Most Canadians get that we do, and hopefully there’s an ethically more straightforward route that will get the majority of voters exactly who they want to represent their interests in the not too distant future, putting the need to be strategic on the back burner once and for all.
But that’s just our election and what happens in Canada stays in Canada, right? Well not really, us being connected to ALL, and all. It’s that in a nutshell, strategic thinking and planning – strategically motivated anything, kills possibility, hobbles creativity and innovation, binds aspiration to loftier goals by way of rigid timelines, and virtually stun-guns thinkers of anything resembling a new thought from actually having one, never mind acting on one. Don’t even think about spontaneity, or an eleventh-hour inspiring idea tweaking a direction for the better. Strategists aren’t going to let that happen if it’s not on the agenda, if it’s not in perfect harmony with the message they’ve worked rather hard massaging in order to manipulate the masses to do their bidding. Heaven forbid having an idea that colours outside the lines of proven success formulas and profit margins, opting perhaps in favour of say, quality of life instead. We’ve been force–fed success optimization, as that’s the goal of strategizing in the first place, but make no mistake – that’s code for moneymaking viability, not societal health, wellness, happiness, equality, or all too often even plain decency. Life as we know it now resembles a giant chess game, where if we use wily intellect and primordial killer instinct – we win, as long as we’re always one step ahead of the opposition, or more accurately, the other – any other who’s in our way. It’s Hatfields versus McCoys old-school thinking – a supremacy-driven bygone era whose time is drawing closed. The old way is not working anymore in case there’s anyone out there that still doubts this fact. It’s impossible not to notice what is now a global problem – what with the clock ticking so loudly and alarm bells going off every minute of the day with more examples of malcontent than can be named. We have to realize once and for all that what is done to one is done to us all. No exception to the rule. What goes around comes around. You know, do unto others…
Time to wake up.
Six figure-earning corporate strategists for example, could learn how to ply their trade as much through the study of warfare through the ages – any war, all wars – as they do by plodding through the curriculum required to earn a coveted MBA degree. If one doesn’t resonate with anything resembling a war mentality in one’s day-to-day life, one’s unlimited potential can be shot down pretty darn fast if what it takes to get to the winner’s circle at the behest of savvy strategizing seems too high a price to pay. I’m not confusing the need to be methodical and focused in order to succeed at a particular goal – that’s common sense. I’m outing the blood sport seated at the core of strategic planning, calling it what it is. In order to sell a product, an idea, or a even political party, the job of strategy is to identify and zero in on the thing in question and style it, sculpt it, massage it, so it can be swallowed by the largest numbers of terminally needy ‘buyers’ sick with not-enough-ness. Strategizing is a threat to authenticity if ever there was one.
One of the countless casualties of this kind of war-play in the name of prudent strategizing is the loss of much of our manufacturing sector and the jobs that go with it. Offshore manufacturing has depleted the need for much of a North American manufacturing workforce with staggering results, and while profitable on the page for a few, has created a devastatingly depressing reality for many more on both sides of the ocean. With an impoverished, seemingly endless supply of third world workers factored into the offshore cash cow strategy, unscrupulous overseers can demand more and pay much, much less as part of their own supremacist strategy. That’s called good business in many circles and behind closed doors it’s possibly even a bonus-worthy offence.
Environmentally also, strategists are the ones at the helm creating confusion about environmentally detrimental practices in order to minimize them. It’s in the best interest of the companies employing them to insist that they throw us off the scent of doing the right thing by the environment, and that is precisely why change is so hard fought with the battle as yet un-won. The tactic is to create and perpetuate a false sense of need for whatever, mainly through fear and mass hysteria relating to lack. The jig is up – we all know that the technology exists, and that in some cases – like ethanol made from corn for one – has existed for over a hundred years. Therefore the jobs exist in theory also that would enable us to both clean up our own mess and flourish.
In my twenties, I worked for a major retailer in its display department. It was there that I got to see my first, very educational glimpse of what was the 80s-era breed of company strategist in action. Successful U.S. retailers were taking what was called a narrow and deep approach to buying which seemed to be all the rage. The credo was to find the one item that a fake demand could be created for, manufacture it en mass, flog the heck out of it, count the cash coming in, and don’t stop. For my company it so happened to be the Daniel Hechter sweatshirt in 50 or so must-have colours. Pigment-blocked and pigeonholed into monolithic floor to ceiling wall fixtures, they were precisely card-folded like neatly turned out soldiers. Subliminally, the effect was like one of those WW2, We Want You posters, beckoning youth to enlist in the war effort – this particular effort being made to have them fly out of the door by the thousands. Which they did for a few years, until once again people cottoned on to the fact that they really didn’t need that many sweatshirts, after all. Yes it was a successful ploy for a while, emphasis on the word, ploy.
Yet one of the strategies most of us bought into and in turn beseeched our kids to believe too was that to earn a university degree was to fling open the door of job possibility for the brightest, shiniest future. Our son is finishing up his degree in industrial design and hears nothing more from his professors than, “you’ve got to be strategic about finding an employment niche if you want to be successful. Remove any personal bias in order to do that.” There is no emphasis placed on directing students to do what they love, or to do what they are good at, not at all. This, in a world where everything and anything you touch is the result of having had an industrial designer’s official or unofficial handprint on it – the energy of their intention, post having been urged to have no personal bias a.k.a. soul, in their work. Yes, narrow down your focus, young innovators, feel nothing while you attempt to change the world in any small way, and hurry up before you miss the success boat. Don’t explore possibilities that might serve humanity best – that’s not nearly going to be strategic enough.
So as it happens, my son is so busy looking for this illusive niche – a holy grail amidst an increasingly virtual, illusory world, that his very bright young mind is always on high alert in avoidance of strategically placed traps. Traps that might keep him at arm’s length from joy and fulfillment – traps that because of his brightness he knows full well are there.
And anybody who’s looked for a job in the last ten years knows that human resources departments have their own strategies now with respect to acknowledging applications. They rarely do. Humanity aside, it’s more prudently strategic for gate keepers in the applicant process to scan for buzz words on an application that the company war room identifies as ‘key’ rather than look for actual talent in what they unabashedly call, the competition. One is asked to be a buzzword psychic as well as strategic in today’s job market, if you’re going to keep your musket dry while playing modern war games, apparently.
And we wonder why cases of depression and anxiety are at an all-time high…
Strategic planning has invaded our downtime too. Even a bit of television watching is not going take you to your happy place much anymore. As pre-planned, you’ll bear witness to those being voted off islands, or chopped, or those returning haggard from cupcake wars, cut-throated in the kitchen, and those tested as to whether they’d be smarter than a fifth grader, which in turn tests whether they, and as viewer, you, are up to speed with the winning strategy which is always, always to come out on top, over the competition. That’s the expectation, the only expectation. When to win means you get the spoils of a storage locker of all things, after duking it out with other locker winner hopefuls and that’s supposed to be entertainment, is it not time to reassess, everything?
Being strategic is by nature a flawed concept anyway, since it’s always in place to power over something. 99% of those trying to be it are not going to be coming out on top any time soon given the scarcity of seating up there in the stratosphere where the strategists forever point their flashlights. A game of musical chairs is only fun until the one chair left is taken and after that let’s face it, the party’s over. Look at it this way, or try to, and I’ll explain why it’s an impossible ask. Try to focus on two things at once – the thing you’re in the process of creating in your mind for this exercise, and the notion of strategically getting that ‘thing’ to the top of the hill and success. As you’ll sense from the uncomfortable crossing of your eyes, it’s not possible. At best, it can only be a blurry version of your former vision. And, if you were to hire someone like say, a strategist, to take the eyestrain off and run it up the flagpole for you, how easy do you think it would be to find someone on the same purity page as you in the book of ethics – one that miraculously is capable of holding the clear vision you dreamed up in the first place?
But then, there are those that would argue that strategic thinking keeps one focused so as to avoid what’s been coined, bright, shiny object syndrome – flitting about directionless, without a target market, haphazardly chasing the thing on the windscreen du jour. Perhaps what’s actually bright and shiny are the people and their ideals before strategic planning messes them up with algorithms for predictable outcomes, spitting them out and folding them neatly again in effigy of their former selves. I’m hazarding what I recognize is a broad guess that the dumbing down of our culture has occurred in large part because of our penchant for thinking strategic planning is The Answer. If you keep the competitors (that would be most of us), at each other’s throats and hungry, they’ll be too busy doing all of the nasty stuff that humans do to each other to go after the winning seat already being warmed by somebody else on top. They won’t have time to notice that they’re being played in the sport of winning that they’re never going to, doing it this way.
So, maybe we should concentrate more on bringing back the magic that all that strategic thinking and planning and scheming killed. And maybe all of those soon to be out of work strategists could be repurposed to funnel those skills of theirs into performing the kind of creative CPR the world needs now.