June 19, 2017

Clouded Vision and Poorsight: How do Trump, May and Macron’s decision-making boundaries differ?

‘Sight’ isn’t a widely recognised strategy tool and yet it is critical to decisive, informed strategic thinking.

By ‘sight’ I don’t mean the physical capability to ‘see’, rather I am referring to the human mind’s capacity to establish a clear vision of the future. That view is extracted from an unbiased perspective of past experiences, an interpretation of accumulated knowledge (learning) and future focused and (hopefully well-informed) gut feel, intuition or instinct.

There are four key pronouns that can be applied to the word sight in the context of strategy. The first three are hind-sight, in-sight and fore-sight. The fourth element of sight comes into play when the vision becomes obscure or overly clouded, it is that of poor(sight). Poorsight is an outcome from inappropriate or misinformed decisions that are derived from limitations associated with a lack of vision and clear, unbiased decision making.

The first form of poorsight can be described as the outcome from an overemphasis on the subconscious influence of past experiences on contemporaneous decision making, that of hindsight.

A plausible example of an overemphasis on hindsight in the strategic decision-making process is provided by the President of the United States, Donald Trump. With a mantra of ‘Make America Great Again’ Trump ignores the reality that it is impossible to point to any single specific era in American history that a modern-day leader could fairly judge to be the period of greatness. Some might imagine that time to be the early 1950’s post-world war era of rapid growth and prosperity. Others might judge it to be the day America declared its independence from the British Empire - 1776. By ignoring the reality of today, Trump has been drawn into spats born out of past ‘incidents’ and experiences that offer little purpose or value to the real world of today. At the same time, these spats drain any opportunity to deliver ground breaking, future achievements.

A second incidence of poorsight can be an outcome from inappropriate use of insight. UK Prime Minister Theresa May experienced this phenomenon following her decision to call an early election.

May was reportedly taking a walk in the Welsh countryside when a ‘light bulb was switched on’. Acting on a vision of greatness for herself, May had been inspired to take the country to the polls because of her above average opinion poll ratings, a desire to get the upper house of parliament under control while at the same time including Brexit in the Tory manifesto and, of course, an opportunity to realise another five years in office.

With this insight in mind she articulated to the electorate a regrettably short-sighted vision that as Prime Minister she alone could provide a government that was sufficiently ‘strong and stable’ to make a better and highly successful Brexit from the EU. Never mind the other things that everyone votes for such as tax, education and health.

The outcome, of course, was far less than she had hoped. Rather than gaining seats, her parliamentary majority was reduced to a minority.

Had she embraced the wisdom of hindsight, she would have sought the opinion of parliamentary elders. By not doing so, she was blinded to the reality of the ‘first past the post’ voting system that meant that it would always be difficult to gain additional seats in parliament, even with a high opinion poll rating.

Perhaps more importantly, had she articulated a stronger vision of the future and engaged in a little more foresight in the design and conduct of her manifesto (policies) and campaign, she would have fared much better. Instead, the enthusiasm of the electorate that had given rise to high opinion polling was drained away. Few had any clear understanding of what she, or the Conservative Party actually stood for, beyond getting a ‘Hard Brexit’ outcome – whatever that is.

Now we turn to the third kind of ‘sight’, that of foresight and this one seems to carry the day in terms of ambition, outcomes, and results – albeit with significantly higher levels of risk.

Unlike Trump and May, (now) French President Emmanuelle Macron’s ambition to win in politics was devoid of any form of poorsight. Macron had hatched a vision for France which embraced his personal ambition to effectively resolve the extreme social issue of inequality. According to the Guardian newspaper: “Poverty and inequality is something Macron wants to bring an answer to but not necessarily the traditional answer of the French left that is redistribution and benefits payments. I think he’s convinced that you fight poverty by giving opportunities rather than in giving money.”

The extent of commitment to his vision of equality and depth of strategic foresight was commented on by a colleague who was quoted in the Guardian as follows: He (Macron) was on a civil service work placement at the French embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, when he watched on TV what he called “the defining political moment of my generation”: the far-right Front National’s Jean-Marie Le Pen reaching the final round of the presidential election in 2002. He feared, as he says now, that if mainstream political parties didn’t radically change, the far right would progressively inch closer to power”. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/17/emmanuel-macron-the-french-outsider-president.

As with most things strategic, there is never any one right approach or answer as to clarity in vision or lack of bias in expressions of ‘sight’. Instead, it is appropriate to draw on all three perspectives of time and to apply those observations to the specific matter at hand - especially for the purposes of avoiding the effects of poorsight.

Of course, the circumstances faced by Trump, May and Macron are different, in which case a different approach to each problem is appropriate. Selecting the best approach requires decision-makers to firstly ensure they are fully aware of the presence of bias that is automatically associated with hindsight. Secondly, they must recognise, and be conscious of, the limitations of strategic insight that could arise from over optimism or an adherence to misleading/conflicting strategic goals and objectives. Third, there is a need to create a clear understanding of ambition articulated in an expression of foresight. A vision in this context will encapsulate a desired future, but at the same time will be tempered by the reality of the consistent need adapt to reality of today.

smiknowledge conducts on line E learning courses in strategy that provide explanations of the foregoing elements of contemporary strategy practices, as well as many others.

We are also holding two related conferences on the dynamics of strategy as practice, one in Melbourne, Australia in October 2017, with a follow up to be held in London, UK in November 2017. Discussions concerning elements of meaningful strategic thinking are front and centre. The title of the conference is: ”Strategy as the enabler of change in an era of unbounded disruption”. Registration and/or submission of peer reviewed papers are now being invited. Full details are available at our conference web site: https://conference2017.smiknowledge.com/.