Doctrines Define Destiny

For purposes of strategy development & execution, I'm defining doctrines as what you believe to be true about your markets, your organization and your opportunities. These fundamental beliefs serve as the foundation of your organization. And more than anything else, your doctrines will define your organization's destiny. 

Doctrines precede, and almost always supersede, your vision and strategy. They are the pillars on which organizational direction rests. And while doctrines are deeply embedded in the intuitive core of your team, they are too often poorly defined and ineffectively communicated.

A few examples of meaningful doctrines in action below:

  • "Human flight is possible." Wright Brothers, four years before building the world's first airplane
  • "People are intimidated by the blank page... very few consider themselves writers, but lots of people are willing to share their thoughts freely as long as you limit the expectation to a sentence (140 characters)." Twitter, explaining micro-blogging to potential investors during its startup phase
  • "Today's hardware stores couldn't compete with a large, discount warehouse home improvement center." The Home Depot, right after getting fired from Handy Dan Hardware and right before launching their first store

These doctrines proved fundamental to future success. It is no accident that these doctrines all articulate a contrarian positions. Great doctrines usually do. Conventional wisdom would have said that micro-blogging was incomplete or worse--that it was dumb. Almost everyone alive in 1899 knew that human flight was impossible. And large warehouse home improvement stores hadn't been tested, were completely unproven and would almost surely fail to deliver the service level that traditional hardware stores could provide.

In his book Zero to One, Peter Thiel describes the value of taking a contrarian positionThiel says that the place where organizations find maximum success is when they are right about something that very few others believe to be true.

Correct > Incorrect

Correct about the unconventional > Correct about the conventional

As you define your core doctrines, make sure that you aren't just capturing conventional wisdom but are instead pushing your thinking forward, uncovering secrets and clearly defining the beliefs that make your organization unique. Below are five simple actions to help you put your doctrines to work:

  1. Discover: Find out what people in your organization believe to be true about your markets, assets and opportunities. Gather information from from all levels -- front-line employees, managers, support staff and executives. Use surveys and interviews. Ask people what criteria they use to make important decisions, where they see trends forming, what makes the organization better than competitors.
  2. Develop: From the feedback, create a broad version of potential doctrines. These are statements of belief, and at this point, don't worry if everyone on the executive team agrees with the statement.This list is your starting point. An example of a doctrine for a professional services firm might be, "We have developed incredible intellectual property that we use well in consulting engagements but we have yet to build successful products from it." A bolder version might be "We have great IP but are incapable of monetizing it via products."
  3. Prioritize: From the broad list of potential doctrines, prioritize your top 8-12. This is a great chance to test the thinking behind your doctrines and to refine them as necessary. Determine where there is executive team alignment. Where there is disagreement, work to resolve or at least highlight the differences. Give special consideration to those doctrines that make your organization unique.
  4. Utilize: Communicate your doctrines to the team. Use them to set strategy, build core competencies and allocate resources. Reference specific doctrines when you make important decisions. Re-enforce their relevance and ensure organizational alignment.
  5. Refresh: Leadership should be testing the validity of the prioritized doctrines consistently. Your doctrines should be fluid, changing as new information becomes available. Add nuance, become more explicit, incorporate new ideas and ask questions that will prevent your doctrines from becoming stale and out of date.

Your doctrines will define your destiny. Be proactive about developing, communicating and utilizing them effectively in your organization.



Feel free to reach out if you have specific questions with regards to this blog.

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