Over the next few days I’ll be looking at the “Four Hallmarks of Bad Strategy” from Richard Rumelt’s book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. Each of these will be linked to a South African example and concluded with a tip to avoid that element of bad strategy

The first element of bad strategy that Rumelt highlights is that of “fluff”. This can be described as the empty, unnecessary words and terms that are used in organisations to describe their strategy.

The example he uses is this. Try guess what type of company it comes from:

Our fundamental strategy is one of customer-centric intermediation” 

Any guesses?


That is the vision statement of a bank in America. And all it says is “we facilitate transactions”. Their strategy is nothing but fluff.

SA Example: UCT’s Fluffy Strategy

In 2016 UCT issued their “Strategic Planning Framework” for 2016-2020. Their very first goal reads as follows:

Goal 1: To forge a new inclusive identity that reflects a more representative profile of students and staff, and the cultures, values, heritage and epistemologies of the diversity of UCT’s staff and students

This is one hell of a fluffy goal. How do we measure it? When do we know we’ve reached it? What exactly does this identity look like?

The goal itself isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, I agree that UCT does need to become more inclusive in a lot of respects. This has particularly become evident over the last few years.

My concern is the strategy and thinking around the goal. They’ve substituted proper strategy for fancy and unnecessary words.

Dodging the Fluff

Writing up fluffy strategies is tempting because we’re able to hide our uncertainty behind meaningless statements. Avoiding doing so is difficult as it requires us to not only avoid the lingo but to also dig deeper into what we’re trying to do.

Therefore, dodging the fluff requires two things. Firstly, use simple language to describe your overarching strategy. But more importantly, be certain of what you’re actually trying to achieve in the first place.

Image is from 2015 when my flatmate and I tried to start a Stikeez business off the back of the Pick N Pay trend. That’s a story for another time 🙂

Song of the day: Tom Rosenthal - Don't Die Curious
Blog 116/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here


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