A Termite in a Yo-Yo

By Roy H. Williams, The Wizard of Ads

Her plan was obviously brilliant, so why wasn't it working? Susan was as confused as a termite in a yo-yo. I was about to suggest an answer when she said it herself; "Culture eats strategy for lunch."

Every experienced consultant knows that a third-best plan that will be executed is better than the first or second-best plans that won't.

The first time I heard the phrase, "Culture eats strategy for lunch," was 14 years ago when another student at Wizard Academy was explaining why he resigned his position as Chief Visionary Officer in a Fortune 500 company in which he had labored for 30 years:

"Time after time I'd have all the C-level executives* in agreement with me, only to find that the rank and file would choose not to implement what the executive team had decided. In a small company you can simply replace those workers who won't comply, but when you have more than 200,000 employees, culture eats strategy for lunch."

Another name for culture is corporate memory. And the anthem of corporate memory is, "That's not how we do it here."

But this isn't really about Susan or my friend from corporate America. It's about you and what you're trying to do.

Values and traditions are the left and right rails of the railroad track that will determine the direction of your company. Moving those rails is extremely difficult and it's impossible to do so quickly.

Your company is the train that rides on those rails. A company without values and traditions is a train without a track, unable to gain momentum.

Strategy is a motorcycle exploring the territory ahead.

The train can easily push the motorcycle.
The motorcycle can't push the train.

It's not the job of the strategist on the motorcycle to move the railroad tracks. And only a foolish strategist would pretend those tracks don't exist.

The job of the strategist on the motorcycle is to prepare the passengers on the train for all the hills and valleys and tunnels that lie ahead, suggesting which window might offer the better view, and when they might need to turn on the lights.

The job of the copywriter is to ride behind the strategist and cry out to the citizens of the countryside about the glories and wonder of the train that is about to pass their way.

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*These are the C-level executives:

• CEO (chief executive officer)
• COO (chief operating officer)
• CFO (chief financial officer)
• CMO (chief marketing officer)
• CCO (chief compliance officer)
• CIO (chief information officer)
• CTO (chief technology officer)
• CSO or CISO (chief security officer or chief information security officer)
• CDO (chief data officer, chief digital officer)
• CPIO (chief process and innovation officer)