The Modern Strategist – An Owner’s Manual

We’re going to provide you with an owner’s manual. Yes, an owner’s manual. So you can really get the most out of your strategists.

Dear Reader,

Congratulations. If you’re reading this article, then you’re likely a marketer or a member of an advertising agency. And this means it’s quite possible that you have access to a strategist, or someone with the title of “Planner.” Perhaps you are one yourself.

Regardless, as you open the box called Strategy, in violation of one of Apple’s most cherished principles, we’re going to provide you with an owner’s manual. Yes, an owner’s manual. So you can really get the most out of your strategists.

First, a definition as a starting point, so you know what you’ve bought.

There are many definitions of “strategy.” Some derive from military origins, but the one I’m going to use here is, like many of the metaphors and lessons we use at BBR and L’Institut Idée, inspired by the natural world. It’s well down the list in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but it’s the most interesting by far:


Strategy: An adaptation or complex of adaptations (as of behaviour, metabolism, or structure) that serves or appears to serve an important function in achieving evolutionary success.

There are many strategies in the natural world that are astoundingly brilliant, and when we relinquish the fallacy that the human species has some kind of monopoly on strategy, universes open up for our learning and delight.

For instance, the strategy of certain ant species that farm aphids to harvest the nutritious honeydew they produce. This method of farming livestock far pre-dates any agricultural activity by mankind.

Or symbiotic partnerships that span entire eras, such as lichen—a strategic partnership of algae and fungus that allowed this pairing to conquer entire regions of our world.

So, extrapolating from the definition above, we can formulate the strategist’s job as follows:


To design a pattern of thinking that will result in the most adaptive structures and behaviours in the ongoing mission to achieve evolutionary success.

Or, put another way: the strategist’s job is to guide the thinking of the chieftains, to ensure the village survives and flourishes. (And, of course, sometimes the chieftains are the strategists, and vice versa.)

I put particular emphasis on the phrase “to design a pattern of thinking” because this is the basis of everything. Insights, the lifeblood and livelihood of a strategist, are the result of seeing patterns in the market that are ripe opportunities for an organization or brand to exploit.

But their job doesn’t end there. They must persuasively put forward a framework to guide creative and tactical thinking, to give their team members the highest chance of landing on ideas that have a significant evolutionary advantage.

In upcoming posts, we’ll get more into the nitty-gritty of how to use your strategist, but for now, we’ve laid a good basis—one that positions the market not as a machine, but as an evolving and intelligent macro-ecosystem.