In the series Blackadder Goes Forth, there are a number of great scenes for the strategy consultant.  This is perhaps our favourite.  For the uninitiated the theme of this series is the First World War.  A difficult period of human history, however, handled to perfection by this comedy.

For those of you unfamiliar with the horrors of the First World War, it involved the stalemate of trench warfare for a prolonged period of time.  In his response, to General Haig’s plan Captain Blackadder highlights the problems with this period of history and unwittingly gives strategy consultants some absolute gems.

Firstly, the monotonous use of the same strategy repetitively.  Many organisations simply look at what they did last year at the top level and decide they will improve on it by X%.  That is not a strategy, that is an aspiration.

Secondly, the fact that despite the hostory of carnage, no real review took place as how to change it.  In actual terms the great minds of the First World War came up with the idea of the massed artillery barrage to destroy the barbed wire and other obstacles that existed between the trenches.  At the battle of the Somme this failed miserably and led to the British Army’s heaviest loss of life in a single day.

Thirdly, there was a distinct lack of innovation (until the tank arrived for the allies and for the Germans using smaller units of men such as storm troopers who were more agile than massed units) in attack.

Defensively, the use of interlocking trenches and machine guns had developed however this was not matched offensively.  This changed the landscape that the offensive operations were taking place in.  As can be seen in the clip, the environment was not really factored into the plan.  Blackadder points out the horrendous loss of life which occurred almost immediately an offensive was launched.

In business terms, there are a number of lessons to be learned.

Strategy takes place in a dynamic business environment.  Unlike the First World War today’s marketplace changes rapidly and often seismically.  Utilising something that has been tried before may therefore not be the best tactic.  Adapt the plan to the environment or take the environment into consideration when developing the plan.

Review the results of the plan.  One of the biggest mistakes of the First World War was repeating the flawed strategy.  The cost in men and material was immense.  Your organisation has scarce resources so effective measurement should lead to effective management and an effective strategy.

Look to innovate or differentiate.  A successful plan, product or brand will be imitated or copied.  To stay ahead of the competition requires your organisation to differentiate.  Maintain your unique selling point or better still develop additional ones.

Thankfully it is unlikely we will repeat the mistakes of the First World War in reality.  It is down to you to learn how to best use the mistakes of the past to improve your organisations future.

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