The Force of Fewer in Strategy

Fewer words, initiatives, metrics, and complexities just might unlock your strategy.


Did you know that Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat using only 236 different words?

Amazing, isn’t it?

But, there’s more to the story. Dr. Seuss’s publisher bet him that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words.

Seuss’s response?

Green Eggs and Ham. That’s one of the best-known children’s books of all time.

The moral to the story is that few can be good, and fewer can be masterful. This applies to our professional lives as well. How?

Well, if you read my stuff, you already know that I have a healthy skepticism for what I’ll call “one thingism.”  In an earlier post linked here, I used an old movie scene to set off the notion that strategies formed around “one thing” like earnings growth or engaged culture fall short of the richness needed.

But holy cow, how often we over-complicate things.  To wit:

I know professionals who have more than 15 direct reports. It’s a striking executive who can care for and nourish 15 people who all look to her for guidance.  In fact, I have still not met one.

I know people who go through every day with meetings non-stop. I’m one of them. Even when I have days without meetings, I feel naked and go schedule a few. That’s not all bad, but fewer meetings would still work.

I know of strategists who build strategies with more than 20 “key” initiatives.

I know of boards who try to manage 20 “key” metrics.

I know of CEOs who believe that the obfuscation of reporting on many business lines is superior to the clarity of a few themes.

I know of managers who write job descriptions with so many “prime” directives as to be unintelligible.

We can go on and on about fewer when it comes to professional life and strategy. While some of us are sitting around thinking about our professional lives as a massive, thousand-page tome like Atlas Shrugged, others of us are thinking The Cat in the Hat.

Me? I prefer Green Eggs and Ham, and a relentless drive for fewer.

The answer is not “one thing,” but it just might be only a few.

If I were to write a strategy for the world, a few words would work.  Why won’t only a few work for your business strategy? Fewer words, initiatives, metrics, and complexities just might unlock your strategy.

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