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How to be a stronger strategist

By Ally Waring, Senior Strategist


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March 11, 2020 | 5 min read

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I'm a rookie strongwoman and it's made me a better strategist.

Strongman Strategist

'Making jeopardy my best mate has made me stronger. And a better strategist.'

Not just in the physical sense (#sickbod) but mainly in the mental. And I've come to realise that it shares a lot of synergies with my day job.

I suppose strongman isn’t exactly the most normal thing to do in my free time. Picking up atlas stones, pulling trucks and flipping massive tyres is usually reserved for The World’s Strongest Man, Channel 5’s best export.

But it’s what gives me a fresh, outsider perspective. And helps me approach things – briefs, clients, meetings, pitches – differently.

Odd, right? What could strongman and strategy possibly have in common anyway?

For me, it comes down to 3 key things:

Thriving off jeopardy

In Strongman, physical strength is the easy part.

When you’re faced with a 200kg tyre and the goal is to flip it, your body has been trained to physically lift it. The one thing that will hold you back? Your head.

This phenomenon extends beyond self-doubt. It chemically reduces the adrenaline, glucose release and physical energy in your body. You NEED to psych yourself up to make the lift.

Sure. Strategy may not require you to do a load of manual labour (or flip an effing great tyre). But some of our best work is created by psyching ourselves up. And how do we create an environment for getting psyched?

Jeopardy. Jeopardy is my best friend. I've realised that I hate to work without a deadline and a potential risk of letting others (and myself) down. Because by applying a bit of pressure, it does wonders to my brain.

Pitch rooms? Jeopardy.

Unimpressed creative director? Jeopardy.

Confused client? Jeopardy.

That initial body-brain-freezing panic can stump you. But once harnessed, it pushes you to fight the scenario and push for the best result. To scramble your thoughts and assemble the strongest, most poignant insights. To brutally simplify your narrative.

Making jeopardy my best mate has made me stronger. And a better strategist.

Actively Failing

One of the most terrifying things in Strongman?

At some point, you will eventually fail.

But knowing where your limits are, and how you can eventually overcome them, is a completely invaluable skill. Until you get there, you're not testing, you're just guessing (my coach's mantra).

Same applies in strategy. Without failure, and without knowing your limits, you will literally just be guessing. It's also incredibly dangerous for us, because it means we will assume we can do everything ourselves. 'I guess that creative brief on shopper wasn't a total failure, so I guess

I'm a shopper specialist now!' is a really bad place to be.

Our job, if anything, is to co-create. To source multiple inspirations, opinions and expertise (which are definitely not just our own!). And then to create a streamlined, single narrative based on the strongest parts of all those inputs.

So fail. Little and often. And actively, in order to discover the limits.

Persistence breeds resilience

Strongwomen aren’t born with the ability to pull trucks or move giant stones; they have to work at it.

And in persistently working, you find the things that carry you through. The things that build your resilience. For me, it's my friends, my coaches, FOOD (omg food) and music.

In strategy, resilience is often something that gets overlooked.

Imposter syndrome is most strategists' curse. Because we're constantly asking ourselves: 'why?' / 'is this right?' / 'am I sure?' / 'can I back this up?' amongst many many other things.

So resilience, I've often found, is not something that can be easily taught to us. It's something we experience and have to keep experiencing. It's uncomfortable. It's hard. And it can wear us down. But the best strategists (and strong people) have been through all of this and come out the other side better than before. They're persistent. And persistence can truly breed resilience.

So get strong. It might be weird and (more than) slightly intimidating.

But it’s what gives me a point of difference. Provides me with an escape, a release from the everyday. And a new perspective on little old ad land.

Not to mention, it does wonders for my wellness!

I'll see you at the bar (no, not that one).

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