A Rigorous Definition of Fluff … Good Thoughts on Strategy for Business Solutions (and Other Things)
I always thought my business partner, Gladys S.W. Lam, pioneered use of the word fluff for all things superficial, especially in written material. She uses it well and often (for example, she might very well use it for these very words). However, now there is evidence of other expert users of the word.
Just to be sure of the meaning of fluff: [MWUD 2b]: something essentially trivial and lacking importance or solid worth.
In Good Strategy Bad Strategy The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt (Crown Publishing, a division of Random House Inc., New York, NY, 2011) fluff is described (p. 32) as “… a form of gibberish masquerading as strategic concepts or arguments. It uses ‘Sunday’ words (words that are inflated and unnecessarily abstruse) and apparently esoteric concepts to create the illusion of high-level thinking.”
Rumelt makes some excellent points. About business risks he says (p. 42): “If you fail to identify and analyze the obstacles, you don’t have a strategy. Instead, you have either a stretch goal, a budget, or a list of things you wish would happen.” Good stuff!
What do you need to be successful with strategy? Rumelt (p. 268) says: “you must cultivate three essential skills or habits. First, you must have a variety of tools for fighting your own myopia and for guiding you own attention. Second, you must develop the ability to question your own judgment. If your reasoning cannot withstand a vigorous attack, your strategy cannot be expected to stand in the face of real competition. Third, you must cultivate the habit of making and recording judgments so that you can improve.”
A Policy Charter is the deliverable in our methodology Proteus used to lay-out the elements of strategy and their motivation (know-why). By the way, did you know that know-why is actually in the dictionary? I’m not sure I actually know why.
How do you distinguish between good business strategy and bad business strategy? (Rumelt doesn’t say anything about ugly strategy, as far as I know.) He says (p. 20)“good strategy requires leaders who are willing and able to say no to a wide variety of actions and interests. [I like that!] Strategy is at least as much about what an organization does not do as it is about what it does.”
He also explains (p. 243) that “good strategy is, in the end, a hypothesis about what will work. Not a wild theory, but an educated judgment. And there isn’t anyone more educated about your [business] than the group in [the] room.” Exactly right.
Rumelt says bad strategy (p. 32 ) “… is not simply the absence of good strategy. It grows out of specific misconceptions and leadership dysfunctions. To detect a bad strategy, look for … Failure to face the challenge. … When you cannot define the challenge, you cannot evaluate a strategy or improve it. Mistaking goals for strategy. Many bad strategies are just statements of desire rather than plans for overcoming obstacles.” Bad strategy “… is long on goals and short on policy or action. … It uses high-sounding words and phrases to hide [its] failings.”
He means (and says) fluff.
Tags: fluff, Good Strategy Bad Strategy, Policy Charter, Rumelt
Ronald G. Ross
Ron Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994.