Yesterday the world lost a great theoretical physicist. It also lost a truly great communicator. Someone who could get people interested in highly complex, scientific topics by making them relevant and accessible.  He never made you feel that you were being ‘dumbed down to’, even though you knew you were.

Stephen Hawking once said ‘theoretical physics is one of the few areas in which disability is not a serious handicap because it’s all in the head.’  It is this concept of ‘all in the head’ that I want to explore this week.

I was once asked by a business leader to teach him ‘strategy’.  My reply was “I can share with you creative cognitive techniques. I can share with you the processes you need to calculate opportunity and risk but only you know the way you want to go, and if you don’t, then don’t bother with strategy until you do.”

The way I see business strategy, is that it is very similar to theoretical physics. It’s relatively easy, once you have learned some basic theorems and understand the mental processes needed to go from one point to the other. After that all it’s just a matter of time. Time to think, time to concentrate and to stay concentrated.

One of the best resources I was ever given to help me develop strategies was the long-haul flight.  17 or 22 hours strapped into in the tight confines of a plane with just a notepad and a propelling pencil, gave me all I needed. If I stayed concentrated, no conversations with the person next to me, no TV, no movies, just the inflight food and plenty of water (and perhaps some noise cancelling headphones) I was set to go. 1020 minutes of pure concentration.

I always started with the ‘why’ (why am I doing this? What is the problem I am trying to solve? What I am trying to achieve?). Then I would ask myself ‘How will I know when I have achieved it?’ and simply go on from there.  The old fashioned ‘SWOT’ (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis chart and some other basic tools in my head were all I needed after that.  And when an idea developed – I had plenty of time to even build a mini business case, based upon what I knew and some assumptions. For the data that I didn’t have to hand, just like a theoretical physicist, I would temporarily fill in the gaps with a Greek symbol or simply an ‘X’ or a ‘Y’.

Innovation is in your head. We have projects for making it real.

Have a good week