34/250 The Watercolour Strategy

(and the magic of creation)

‘If they can’t see it, it isn’t true.’ ~ Jim Camp.

As I sat at the round, glass table in the centre of my office, looking through a set of watercolour paintings I made last year, I marvelled at the work I’d put in. Some of them spoke directly to my heart, pulling a smile onto my dial and encouraging me to lean in closely, to examine what was written there. Others repelled me, made me sigh and roll my eyes.

The paintings sit inside a folder labelled The Brutal Pixie Vision.

When I created them, I was inside a long, slow slide into a dark place and didn’t know it. I’d justified the creation of these paintings as being more useful than a set of bullet-points on a screen.

Now, looking back at them from a brighter place, I can’t help but agree with my past self. They are more useful. And more to the point, loads of the detail came to life in a way that a list of bullet-points never seemed to in the past.

Strategy is such a boring, rigid word, isn’t it?

The word comes to us down the timeline from the 1810s, meaning ‘art of a general’. It’s been in non-military use only since 1887; the word itself is a combination of various other words meaning ‘army’. It’s no wonder it commands a picture of war rooms, maps, pins, threads, and analysis. The art part of strategy is often missing.

Among all of the sheets of heavy watercolour paper is one labelled We did all of the things we dreamed about. What did we do to make it happen? It’s a page filled with a vine that is punctuated by roses and leaves. In between the roses and the leaves are little statements.

Reading through the twisting turns of the vine, I was astonished to see how many of them Brutal Pixie has achieved in the past year. Here’s a snapshot of some of them:

  • got clear on our market and qualifying

  • understood & tracked capacity

  • fantastic project management

  • consistent, knowable, reliable

  • we made our clients feel great

  • we got our own house in order before partnering with others

… and many more besides.

Turning the page, I saw a stick figure taking a long trek, navigating deep pools of water, sinky sand, puddles, chasms, and even lava! The poor little guy starts with a smile, climbs hills, gets stuck in a pool and yells for help, gets bowed over and sad. He drags himself along, never giving up. Eventually, he gets to the bottom of the page and keeps going.

Each one of the problems he encounters is labelled as a pitfall. The painting tells a story that is emotional, heartbreaking, uplifting. Some of the things that look like little puddles conceal gigantic, watery ravines. Others, ones that look big, are actually shallow and easy to overcome.

The point is that if you don’t know they’re there, or how deep they are, you can get yourself into trouble without realising it.

And then the next page is a colourful statement What would this look like if it were easy? It is surrounded by pictures, statements, and splashes of colour. The colours were added in a pattern that you come to learn as you flip through the book.

When I walked through this amazing folder of strategic statements and questions, I gripped a pen of silky blue ink. And on the ease page, I started ticking them off! I ticked them off, marked them ACHIEVED and put in a date.

They haven’t all been achieved - we’re about halfway through the list - but it’s still a remarkable feeling.

This experience went on and on.

The feeling of flipping through pages filled with art and colour was the most heartwarming business strategy experience I have ever had.

I recommend it to you. Highly.

It’s not all goals. There are values, measures, and outcomes, too.

Not all of them still apply.

For example, I sat and I reworked our Hedgehog Concept to fall into line with what we’re doing now. I drafted a number of new mission and purpose statements for the business and its products, which over the past fortnight have been pushed through three or four iterations - and will have more before I’m done. Some of the other pages do need to be reworked, which I’m achieving piecemeal.

The nature of this hand-crafted folder of vision is that it looks finished, but invites you to interact with it. The shifting sands of time make it feel unfinished because as you write goals sometimes they change. So this will, in a sense, always be unfinished. It is alive: You can read through it, reminisce, smile, frown, and laugh. You can grab a pen and strike things out, tick things off.

All the time that you are doing this, your mind explodes in little puffs of shining cloud with new things to replace them.

The idea of a living strategy isn’t new. But it is completely underrated. I don’t know about you, but I have a subconscious attitude that somehow, if it’s on a screen, it isn’t as valuable as something on paper: Easily erased, simple to delete, impermanent.

The Moving Finger writes, and, having writ
Moves on; nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
~ Omar Khayyam

Crafting strategy and goals paintings imbues them with an energy that nothing created on a computer comes close to matching.

Perhaps, the Pixie muses, that is why so many were achieved.