A fast and innovative method of strategy development

strategy development

I recently vacationed in the lovely state of Maine and had dinner with an executive responsible for economic strategy development. He told me that some of the state’s traditional industries are in peril, and the worst is the paper industry. Maine once had 17 thriving paper mills but today there are seven.

What do they do with all those old facilities? What do they do with all those trees?

What does Maine’s paper industry have to do with you and your marketing? A lot. Because Maine needs a new way to look at its strategy development, and you probably do, too. Today I’ll explain why.

The seam

Many people are enjoying my new book Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds.

In my book, I contend that innovation, business opportunity, and momentum begin for all of us when one magical thing happens: We rapidly apply some skill, competency, or resource (an “initial advantage”) to some change happening in the world. I call this a fracture in the status quo, or “the seam.”

When I was growing up in business, strategy development meant a 250-page document and a five-year plan based on projections and historical trend analysis.

Today, the world is moving too fast for any of that. And every historical trendline was abruptly halted in 2020 anyway, right?

Every time there is a disruption in culture, tastes, demographics, or trends, there’s an opportunity for business because these shifts create new unmet and under-served customer needs. So for example,

  • Growth of home food delivery company Hello Fresh doubled because people could not shop or go to restaurants during the pandemic.
  • Sales of home exercise equipment tripled last year as people tried to stay fit in their flats.
  • Social audio app Clubhouse enabled live conversations between lonely, isolated, and (often) unemployed people during the pandemic. In a year, Clubhouse went from less than a million users to 10 million users, most of which were added in 2021.

These companies generated significant momentum by applying their core advantages to a seam — a sudden shift in a trend — and jumping into the opportunity with full force.

Seeing the forest for the trees

Let’s get back to Maine’s problem.

Maine is a northern American state on the Canadian border famous for its rugged beauty and abundant natural resources. More than 80 percent of the state is blanketed with a thick forest of trees. It is a vast, empty state — The largest town of Portland has less than 70,000 citizens.

With all those trees, Maine became home to some of the largest paper mills in the country. But in the digital age, the need for paper declined severely, and about two-thirds of this vital industry shut down.

My new friend told me that the state is trying to figure out what to do with all these trees. Besides paper, what else can you make out of wood?

This is a worthy question. But the answer is probably a generation away. Developing new processes and products from wood and making up for those thousands of lost jobs might take decades … if it happens at all.

But let’s look at the problem another way. What if we tried to create momentum for Maine based on seams?

Initial advantage

First, let’s look at “trees” in a broader sense. What are the cards Maine has in its deck right now?

  • Obviously, lots of trees! But there are also vast deposits of limestone and granite.
  • Without the paper mills, Maine now has millions of acres of unpopulated, forested land.
  • The state has a very small population with a modern infrastructure
  • Maine is famous for its rugged outdoor lifestyle featuring the sea, forests, and a popular National Park.

In my book, we would view this list as the “initial advantage.” Maine has many more advantages of course, but let’s keep it simple.

strategy development

I captured this photo of Harbor Seals when I visited Maine. The state is an outdoor wonderland.

Finding the seams

Now let’s look at the mega-trends in our world. What are some of the “seams” open in America right now?

  • There is a severe housing crisis. Home prices have soared so high that many people may never be able to buy their first home. Even apartment rents have skyrocketed. One city in Idaho is considering erecting a tent city to help meet the needs of the housing shortage!
  • The pandemic has redefined how and where we work. Many companies invested in a technology infrastructure that enables a remote work life. For the first time in history, it’s easy for millions of people to have a “geographically neutral” career.
  • The pandemic reawakened appreciation of the outdoors and nature.
  • The top issue for many young people is the environment. This is fueling a trend toward eco-friendly “tiny houses.”
  • The top lifestyle aspiration of Millenials and Gen Z is travel and outdoor adventure.

Momentum for Maine

Again, this is a rudimentary example because I didn’t spend a lot of time researching Maine and its assets, but let’s combine the list of advantages with these seams to discover paths for strategy development:

  1. Maine has land and plentiful building materials — lumber, cement, and rock. Could it become a mecca for more affordable housing? Would people happily trade a long, cold winter for the chance to own a home?
  2. Could Maine turn some of the beautiful but unused forest assets into attractive remote working hubs? What if you designed communities specifically for remote workers that emphasized 24-hour amenities like child care, food service, and technical support?
  3. Maine is a popular vacation destination. Could it attract new “settlers” and jobs by providing free “Maine Pass” access to recreational opportunities? Lifetime free parking, discounts, entry fees.
  4. Could Maine appeal to environmental sensitivities by building state-of-the-art tiny house eco-communities in the forest lands?
  5. America was built through land grants. Our big empty states offered plots of free land to attract settlers. Basically, Maine needs settlers who can create jobs. Why not give land grants or inexpensive housing to qualified entrepreneurs? Build an entrepreneurial suburb. “Maker” communities.

Strategy development: New versus now

Maine is more likely to replace those paper industry jobs by focusing on what is happening NOW versus inventing something NEW to use up the wood surplus. I almost said, this is the “Maine idea,” but of course I would never stoop to something like that. : )

Here’s another idea for you Maine. You’re small. Most states could not take advantage of new seams because they’re too big and bureaucratic. Being small can become an advantage if you turn that fact into “nimble.”

And for you, my valued blog reader, look closely at everything changing around you. How can you apply your skills and resources to solve the problems of the moment? This is the beginning of your momentum.

New seams are opening every day.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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I took the photos in this post.

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