YouCo. Part 2: Strategy And Scenario Planning

Rupert employs aggressive marketing.

This is the second in a series of posts I have lamely dubbed YouCo. I’m drawing on lessons from my graduate business studies to show how best practices from the business world can be applied at the most micro of levels: yourself. The first post considered how a mission and vision statement might be useful to individuals and I encourage you to start there before continuing with this post. That said: I’m not your real dad so you’re free to do whatever you want.

Today’s post examines how businesses construct a strategy to help them attain their stated vision within the context of their mission. I also introduce scenario planning, an idea that is sure to tingle your creativity-senses. The series concludes next week with a look at some generic strategies that might just bring you closer to actualization. I’ll put it this way: once you’ve looked at mentorship as a merger, there’s no turning back.

 Part Two: Strategy And Scenario Planning

If your mission and vision are what you are and what you want to be, respectively, then strategy is the means by which you’re going to attempt to bridge the gap between the two.

Constructing a strategy (which may go by any number of names depending on which particular annual report you happen to be reading) for a business is complex. Internal forces are complicated enough to navigate, but there is also the added consideration of a number of external factors ranging from consumer attitudes to the behavior of your competitors. An effective business strategy must maximize results for stakeholders while minimizing risk and loss – and all within a turbulent external environment over which the company has little control.

Businesses compete with each other because the nature of the marketplace presents only one pie from which they can carve out a slice. If 40 people in your neighborhood drink coffee and you decide to open a cafe, you’re competing for a percentage of those 40 people. You’re not creating a customer base, you’re competing for a piece of one that’s already there… and you always will be. A business strategy, then, must focus on maximizing the business’ slice of this pie. Rarely is a dollar of profit created; it’s usually “captured” from a competitor.

Fortunately, things are far simpler for an individual. Actualization (the assumed endpoint of our efforts) is not one big pie from which every person on the planet must carve their slice – it’s billions of individual pies just waiting to be snatched once we climb high enough to reach the shelf. I’m not claiming that there is an absence of competition for individuals. We’re all going to end up competing for jobs, promotions, etc. However, these competitions are isolated rather than ongoing and the philosophies that I’m about to introduce don’t just apply to the bigger picture, they will also help you come out on top in these intermediate battles.

Constructing And Stating Your Strategy

Your strategy statement is every bit as important as your mission and vision statements and should be concise, specific and realizable in the same manner. Such a statement is made up of three components:

  1. The Objective
  2. The Scope
  3. The Advantage

The objective, of course, is the end state that you would like to accomplish and (where possible to gauge) a time-frame in which you would like to achieve that state. The scope is, simply put, the context within which you hope to reach the objective. The advantage, meanwhile, is the unique set of characteristics and traits that you bring to the front of this particular war that will enable you to lead yourself and other stakeholders to the objective.

In part one we looked at the mission and vision of my alma mater, West Virginia University. WVU are seeking to achieve their mission with their 2020 Strategic Plan For The Future, a set of five goals that conceptualize the components of the university’s vision statement into (caution: buzzword ahead) action items.

Enjoy a nice cup of Goal 5 for an example:

Goal 5:

Enhance the well-being and the quality of life of the people of West Virginia.

Create an academic health system and health professions programs that enhance the well-being of West Virginians.

Increase opportunities for the citizens of the state through workforce education, lifelong learning, and outreach to every county.

Promote sustainable economic development and a cultural environment that improve the quality of life throughout the state.


1. Promote sustainable economic development and a cultural environment that improve the quality of life throughout the state.

2. Expand outreach efforts to connect the campuses to citizens and communities throughout the state. Provide resources and information to equip West Virginia University Extension agents, and other personnel engaged in outreach and care, for a broader role as ambassadors for the institution.

3. Meet regularly with state and industry leaders to articulate University successes and initiatives, to learn of the needs of the state, and to promote the commercialization of research, economic development, and global commerce.

4. Create a nimble academic health system that is responsive to patient access needs, ensures high quality, cost-effective, and safe care, and delivers patient satisfaction and value.

5. Strengthen relationships with alumni, stakeholders, and the communities that neighbor West Virginia University campuses.

This goal clearly addresses the final part of WVU’s vision statement: “By 2020, West Virginia University will attain national research prominence, thereby enhancing…  the vitality and well-being of the people of West Virginia.”

This desired end state is presented in the strategic plan as a list of objectives and actions required to get there (the first component of a strategy statement), clearly states the scope as being the people of West Virginia (the second component) and makes reference to the advantages that WVU will employ to get there (the third component), namely: their aspirational position as a leading research institution, the ability to work alongside the government as a land-grant university, and the existing network of campuses across the state.

Your own strategy statement can be engineered in just this way. A component of my own vision statement is to become an academic. This follows from education and knowledge being important values to me and the pursuit of both being central to my personal mission. My own strategy, then, must bridge the gap between that mission and my desired end state of being an academic. What objectives, then, will lead me to that promised land? There are two major possibilities:

  1. Pursue further formal education in the form of a PhD.
  2. Continue on my path of independent research.

It’s possible for either of these roads to take me to my destination. However, considering the scope (again, component two) helps me to turn the wheel in a certain direction: I wish to be a university-based academic. Now the picture begins to crystallize and come into focus. Sure, I could be an independent researcher and have one foot in the door at a university, but pursuing my research through university channels aligns more closely with what I’m hoping to achieve.

Considering my advantages allows me to pull the trigger and make a strategic decision. Conceptualizing this third component for an individual is slightly different to doing so for a business. A business must differentiate itself from competitors in order to “capture” more of the pie. My coffee might be the same but my take-away cups are way rad. It might seem insignificant, but these small details effect consumer behavior in subtle (but often detectable) ways.

However, advantages for an individual don’t have to create or demonstrate differentiation between yourself and others (although, again, isolated instances will require this but we’re talking big picture stuff here). For this reason, it’s best to consider your strengths as your advantage. You don’t necessarily have to be better, but you do have be good. I have worked hard to become a solid academic writer. I wasn’t born that way – I developed the skill over years of constructive feedback. Now it is a strength of mine – an advantage – and it is a strength that would serve me well in pursuit of a PhD. Clearly the first objective is the way to go.

Or is it? In developing my strategy statement I have considered objective, scope and advantage, but all of these considerations are based on my current state of affairs and balance on the dangerous assumption that my life – in all related aspects – will continue as it has proceeded to date. In taking the cornerstones of my existence for granted I have ignored the fact that an earthquake could – at any point in the future – shake that foundation and bring it to the ground. How, then, do we consider what life will look like at that point in the future when we actually achieve our objective?

By engaging in a fantastic exercise known as scenario planning.

Back To The Future: Scenario Planning And You

Scenario planning is an exercise in which strategists imagine plausible futures in which their organization will eventually operate. Not to be mistaken for forecasting, scenario planning is less about the bottom line and more about ensuring the organization can withstand changes in circumstances that may or may not be beyond their control. The scenarios that are drawn up are not predictions, they are plausible narratives.

The practice was popularized by Royal Dutch Shell, who began scenario planning in 1965. Attempting to imagine alternate futures that ignored the generally-accepted assumption that present trends will continue unabated allowed the company to survive the 1973 energy crisis and is a practice they still employ to this day.

Fortunately, like developing a strategy statement, engaging in scenario planning is far less complex for an individual than it is for a business. You are simply attempting to picture what the world around you might look like when you ultimately achieve your objective. It might seem a bit silly, but you will often find that what the future holds for you may not be conducive to an objective you’re thinking about undertaking.

Using my own example, I know that the timeline of completing my PhD is about four years. What will my world look like in four years? I know I will be married and after this there are two futures: one in which I am a dad and one in which I’m not. Obviously the possibility of having a child is an important (and very realistic) consideration. My sleep will be impacted. I will have less free time to focus on my study. My partner’s needs will change and I will need to meet her at those junctions. Perhaps my partner will get a job in a different city, which will put a strain on me as I will be tied rather immovably to the university here in Sydney.

Such scenarios underscore another important consideration: other stakeholders. Where I have a number of possible scenarios, so does my partner. Our lives are linked, but only to an extent. My pursuit of a PhD would affect her own scenarios. She might be forced to turn down that job in another city, even if it would have been better for us as a family.

It’s easy to imagine an infinite number of scenarios because, stopping short of going FULL PHILOSOPHICAL, there truly is an infinite number of possibilities. Scenario planning calls for identifying those that are plausible without inducing an analysis paralysis that will prevent you from moving forward. Choose one or two (Shell used to work up three until they noticed management tended to choose the middle of the road as a way of hedging risk) but Angela Wilkinson and Roland Kupers (authors of the HBR article about Shell) warn against identifying a best and worst case scenario:

The trap of having a “good” versus a “bad” future is that there is nothing to learn in heaven, and no one wants to visit hell.

Instead, they recommend looking for links between your strengths (advantages) and those plausible futures. Such thinking forces you to look outside of your comfort zone, actually enabling you to grow even while you’re planning for growth. When the future eventually arrives (as it usually does) it may not look exactly like the scenarios you had imagined, but the flexible thinking and consideration that scenario planning has helped you develop will leave you agile and adaptable in a way that will make you feel like you were born ready for anything.

This is the second in a series of three posts I’ve lamely dubbed YouCo. The series examines how best practices from the business world can be applied to your pursuit of self-actualization.

Part One: Define The Mission And Vision Of YouCo.

Next week I will wrap things up with a look at some generic business strategies that might not seem applicable to your personal pursuits but may just yield surprising results for YouCo.

Define The Mission And Vision Of YouCo.

Rupert employs aggressive marketing.

I recently completed my MBA at the University of Technology, Sydney. My own shift toward personal development coincided with the commencement of my graduate studies and the two simultaneous pursuits really played well off of one another for the duration of my course. Since putting the finishing touches on my coursework I’ve begun to synthesize many of the larger ideas that were common threads across different subjects including efficiency, responsibility, strategy, and communication.

More than once throughout my course I was struck with the notion that many of the theories and best practices that we were being taught to apply to business could also be implemented at the most micro of levels: ourselves.

This is the working thesis behind a series of posts I’ve lamely dubbed “YouCo.” that will appear over the next several weeks. Think of it like a crash-course MBA that’s all about you. No tests. No accounting requirement. Just the best practices of the business world turned inside out in the name of self-actualization. Let’s begin.

Part One: Mission and Vision

No concept has induced more yawning or eye-rolls in “team building” meetings than that of a mission and vision statement. This is an unfortunate byproduct of the fact that so many mission and vision statements are poorly constructed or don’t reflect reality. Do you know the mission and vision of the company you work for?

Does your boss?


Because he wrote it?

Yeah, I thought so.

When appropriately stated and grounded in the reality shared by all members of the organization, mission and vision statements can be powerful rather than groan-inducing. Mission and vision are two different notions, though they are often clumped together. Generally speaking, a company’s mission is a summary of what’s happening now while their vision considers what they’d like to be doing in the future and how they aim to make that ideal future into the present reality.

Examples are fun, so consider this one from my alma mater, West Virginia University:


As a land-grant institution in the 21st century, WVU will deliver high-quality education, excel in discovery and innovation, model a culture of diversity and inclusion, promote health and vitality, and build pathways for the exchange of knowledge and opportunity between the state, the nation, and the world.


By 2020, WVU will attain national research prominence, thereby enhancing educational achievement, global engagement, diversity, and the vitality and well-being of the people of West Virginia.

The mission explicitly states what the university is, what they aim to deliver, who they aim to deliver it to, and establishes an ideal framework in which they operate.

The vision, meanwhile, looks ahead and sets a goal of even higher achievement with a specific focus on the people of West Virginia. This vision is in line with their 2020 Strategic Plan, but we’ll save that for next week’s YouCo. entry on strategy.

Is it shocking that a university emphasizes learning and wants to be better at it in the future? Well, no – but that’s not really the point. More than stating the obvious, a mission and vision statement is a checkpoint against which operational decisions can be measured. It is, in essence, the compass that keeps the ship headed in the right direction.

It has to be based in reality and it has to be realizable.

If you were to measure any current student or faculty member against the mission statement you would find either a whole or a broken link in the chain – there is really no middle ground. If the mission is based in reality, you’ll find only one strong chain with no broken links. If it doesn’t reflect reality there will be weak links indicating the mission statement is actually the vision statement and you need to take a step back to reassess.

Your Own Mission And Vision

Though not every group will formally state their purpose and aspirations, most will have at least an informal idea of who they are and where they’re going. It’s easy to see that mission and vision statements are a virtual necessity for even small organizations; all members have to be aligned in order to achieve the best results. But considering the fact that we’re talking about dealing with yourself and yourself alone, why bother with a formal mission and vision statement? Aren’t you always going to know what you want and where you’re going without the need to reference an articulation of those ideas?

Well, sure. It’s not impossible to achieve great results without formalizing the state of your being and your aspirations. Many have done it throughout history and many will do it into the future. However, I happen to believe that stating and continually updating your mission and vision will keep you moving toward actualization at a faster clip while helping you monitor your own progress along the way.

If you look at a photo of yourself now compared to when you were ten years younger I imagine you can immediately notice some differences in your physical appearance. Maybe your hair is darker, maybe your jaw line is better defined. Whatever the differences, they’re obvious and easy to point out in this ‘then and now’ comparison.

But can you point to a day in that ten year span that you noticed your hair color had changed from the day prior? A morning when your jaw could cut glass whereas the night before it was hard to distinguish? Of course not. The change was gradual and not detectable on an ongoing basis, even to yourself.

What about your worldview over a four year span like high school or college? Between being a freshman to becoming a senior you probably engineered a different take on things societal, political, romantic – but was it an overnight epiphany that made senior-you unrecognizable to freshman-you? Probably not, and you would find it difficult to point to the individual and isolated moments that came to inform your new perspectives.

If such physical and mental change is happening to you without your knowledge, would you not like to have some manner of control over it? Some ability to reel it in and steer it in the direction of your passions rather than let it be carried away by a current of indifference moving toward the status quo?

Your personal mission and vision statement can be that tool.

Defining your mission and your vision will allow you to do what you could not do while comparing ‘then and now’ photos: track your progress while it’s ongoing. How does this work? Your aspirational vision will be incorporated into your mission once it’s been accomplished. Say, for example, that your vision is to become a politician that serves the people of your precinct. You work toward this goal until one day you are elected. Now your mission becomes the present form of what was once your vision for the future. Now you are a politician that serves the people and your vision must be revised (within the frame of your mission).

If you revisit your mission and vision at regular intervals, you will be able to see how you have accomplished your visions and enhanced your mission over time. More than ticking boxes on a to-do list, this is a visualization of your road to actualization. It’s the same concept that those who keep journals and diaries are always talking about: the ability to track the subtle but often tectonic shifts in your personality, character and priorities.

The most important component here is the integration of your achieved visions into your current mission. By doing this you can track your progress toward larger, more ethereal goals (vision) while further fortifying your foundation (mission). Your mission serves as your rock, allowing you to remember who you are and what you stand for. It’s an inventory of the artillery you have at hand to defend against crises of character and attacks from would-be corrupters; the ever-expanding fortress from which you venture out daily in search of actualization.

A good way to get started with your first mission statement is to take stock of where you are and what factors in your life actually define you. If you don’t want to be defined by your job, leave it out. If you do want to be defined by your love of animals, make it explicit. Your mission statement might look something like this:

As an educated and professional accountant, I will deliver the very best service to my clients by making their priorities my own and ensuring my job is done correctly the first time. As a husband and father of two, I will prioritize the happiness of my wife and children by separating my work and home life and celebrating their successes as if they were my own. As a citizen of West Virginia, I will take an active part in local politics by being an informed citizen and encouraging healthy debate on my political blog.

Your vision, though, can best be thought of as “how would I like history to remember me?” A vision statement for our hypothetical accountant might look like this:

By the age of 40 I will have achieved a junior partnership at my firm. By the time my children graduate, I will have saved the tuition costs for them to attend a state school. Using my knowledge of business and local policy, I will provide ongoing support for my wife as she aims to open her own business. By 2016 I will have expanded membership on my blog to 10,000 and readership to 50,000 unique hits a week and by 2018 I will use the blog as a platform to campaign for a seat in the West Virginia state senate.

When you’ve crafted your personal mission and vision, write it down somewhere. No need to laminate it and hang it on the wall. Put it on a card in your wallet. Make it a reminder on your phone that becomes the first thing you see each morning. Commit to it and strive to live by the mission and achieve the vision. After a year, revisit it. How far have you come? Can any of your vision be integrated into your mission? Have you deviated from your mission in whole or in part?

If so, rework your mission and vision accordingly. Over time you’ll have documented verification that you’re making real progress toward becoming your ideal self and that the status quo does not apply to you.

Next week I will take a look at how businesses develop and execute various strategies and how a little strategic thinking might pay dividends for YouCo.

Welcome to Toward Vandalia!

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Welcome to Toward Vandalia, a personal development blog that I hope will empower you to discover your truest self and maximize the potential of that self. The aim of ToVa is not to be an airy-fairy feel-goodery that encourages you to “Reach for your dreams!”. No, the goal here is to offer practical insights and wisdom. I do want you to reach for your dreams, of course, but I’m hoping to help you conceptualize those dreams before developing and implementing a plan of attack based in the realities we all face out in the real world.

What you will not see: a poster featuring a hand reaching for the sunny sky and a caption telling you to “Reach!”

What you will see: advice on engaging in constructive introspection that will indicate where you should reach and practical tips on how to get there one step at a time.

That said, inspiration will feature on the site (on Wednesdays, specifically) but it’s going to be practical inspiration in the vein of real life success stories or lessons to be gleaned from creative works. You’ve probably read stories similar to the ones I will share, but the mission of this site will be to help you bridge that gap between “Man, I wish I had the ability to do that” and showing yourself – by doing it! – that you’ve always had that ability.

Each week is going to have a prevailing theme. The meat is going to appear on Monday and Wednesday, while Friday will feature curated content gathered from around the interwebs that particular week.

Monday is going to set the pace with a longer thought piece and discussion of the theme that week. These themes might be general like “leadership”, but the Monday post will typically have a specific point to make on the topic. Occasionally the topic will be quite specific – such as a specific tool that will help you achieve forward momentum – and I’ll break the article into parts so as to give you the option of reading a brief overview or an in-depth walk-through.

Wednesday will give you a mid-week blast of practical inspiration. Typically this will fall in line with the theme of the week but every now and again something ‘breaking’ might be featured instead.

Friday will close out the week and give you a few pieces to check out over the weekend. Typically these links will be from that week (a “best of” the articles that I found helpful) but I’ll also include “throwback” links when they’re appropriate matches to the theme of the given week.

The Monday posts may sometimes be broken into two and concluded on the Tuesday. Off-topic issues that I feel might interest some segment of the readership (but may not appeal to the whole readership) may occasionally appear, but always on an “off” Tuesday or Thursday.

The goal will always be to get you thinking constructively about yourself and your goals. Whether your ambitions are to tackle and finally complete a pet project (like that novel you’ve been “working on” for the last ten years) or to scale the ladder at your company, ToVa aims to help you along the way.

I hope that you find the content to come both helpful and interesting. If you ever have any comments or suggestions, I urge you to get in touch via the “Contact” link in the main menu. Alternatively, feel free to comment on any given article so that the readership at large can benefit from the ensuing discussion.

Thanks for reading – best of luck out there!

Montani Semper Liberi,
J. Greg Joachim
J. Greg Joachim