Corporate strategy in the age of Q

Here are three ways in which even the most skeptical corporate strategic planner can incorporate Q-type thinking into their business planning.

Corporate strategy in the age of Q

Writing this essay feels odd, as I have no inclination to recapture my Gold status with British Airways, and go trotting around the world doing business strategy consulting again. That said, I’d like to share with you a few thoughts about how to engage with corporate strategy in an era of “narrative supercollapse” — a bit like the fall of the USSR caught most off guard.

In this process, the anti-corruption Q movement is emblematic of the kind of “reality upgrade” that may be necessary. It is also the sort of topic you’ll never see covered in a McKinsey marketing email or issue of HBR  — until it’s way too late. For instance, it seems unthinkable that there could be a collapse of trust in the mass media — for complicity in serious organised crime — and its replacement by QAnon folk as trusted sources… until it happens, and you’re forced to react.

I met with an industry friend last week who brought me some fresh insight to this problem space, which I share with you here. My experience is that there are a lot of people who are “waking up” to the new reality we face. They fear to speak out in the workplace as they will face ridicule and discrimination from those who have yet to grasp the unfolding paradigm change. Be assured there are people on your staff who are tracking Q drops and alternative media, and hence have a radically different outlook to the dominant narrative norm.

Based on my discussions with fellow QAnons, there are three actions that I can see as being necessary:

  1. Expand your thinking — to include deception and betrayal.
  2. Refresh your wildcards — to include more radical scenarios.
  3. Eliminate the raw deals — across your stakeholders.

Expand your thinking

Strategic planning traditionally is based on an implicit model where value is created by the positive transformation of raw inputs into finished products and services. There is then “leakage” of that value through various forms of negative waste. The genius of “lean” management thinking is to elevate the control of waste to a first-class object in management systems.

The suggestion here is that you can take this negative thinking to the next level. Squeezing out pennies from processes — whilst the production system is brittle to supply chain failure — is a poor strategic choice. Just as it IT has had to make information security a core competence, not an adjunct to data processing, so does business need to up its game at “strategic plan security”, not just “value processing”.

We are in an era of revelation where all kinds of past wrongdoing is coming to light. The successful enterprise of the near future may be one whose primary strategic focus is the elimination of catastrophic ruin risks due to the exposure of deception or betrayal by a key stakeholder. This is clearly not hypothetical, given recent headlines (and I won’t name names). We’re seeing major banks, tech companies, and pharma groups carrying huge fraud liabilities.

What would you do if different partners (supply, demand or internal) turned out to be involved in serious criminal acts? What is your “ethical attack surface” and implicit self-insurance cost of those risks? How can you upgrade your management systems to allow for the reality of deception and betrayal at unprecedented scale? How can you stress your plan in an “antifragile” manner to prepare for shock corruption revelations?

Refresh your wildcards

My friend reminds us of Peter Schwartz, who is a founder of scenario planning. In his seminal book The Art Of The Long View he offers building blocks for such as “weak signals”, “trends”, “uncertainties”, and “wildcards”. The short term is dominated by trends, and the long run by wildcards. Famously, this helped companies like Shell anticipate and prepare for events like the fall of the USSR.

There is a “weak signal” (actually quite a loud one!) of the media screaming insistently negative things about the “QAnon conspiracy theory”, whilst non-stupid people like myself are telling you we’ve given due diligence our best shot— and have concluded Q is the real deal. You might have an opinion on whether this is a wise belief, but the existence of the weak signal is an objective fact.

This is a good moment to engage in updating your scenario planning to allow for the reality that many “conspiracy theories” have turned out to become proven historical fact. Harking back to the first point, the wildcards need to account for institutionalised criminality as a first-class business planning object, and not an afterthought for the CFO and Chief Counsel to deal with. Every Enron or LIBOR scandal is a “conspiracy theory” until the indictments are issued.

This isn’t hard to ground in concrete wildcard scenarios. For instance, it’s no news that the Clinton Foundation is totally corrupt. Who in your supply chain may be an associate of that criminal empire? What are the wildcards that might result from a wider loss of trust in enterprises who are closely associated with the DNC and Obama administration?

Eliminate the raw deals

It is my suggestion that in an era of ethical turmoil, where trust is the scarce non-commodity, that a “values proposition” is the new value proposition. Traditional methods of “spin” and PR will have the exact opposite effect of the past, since they condemn you to being part of a collapsing system of corruption and criminal control. You need to say what you do and do what you say, and be judged by wider moral results.

One of my favourite phrases — stolen from a wise friend who is an executive coach — is that “first steps are fateful”. You can begin right away on cultivating the values that will be cherished in a “Q is real” future scenario. Specifically, you can map out who is being treated unjustly or unfairly in your enterprise, and do something about it. This doesn’t force you to wait for some weak signal to turn into a realised wildcard event.

Actions always speak louder than mission statement words. The struggling supplier that you nailed to the floor by exploiting your pricing power will forever be your friend if you offer them some payment terms relief. The employee who made the HR complaint – with a legitimate gripe — should be given immediate restitution, not resisted. The customer you didn’t deliver to on time, and who suffered a loss, can be send voluntary compensation even when not contractually obliged.

The planning lens you need to adopt is one of suffering: by working to eliminate this, you will naturally serve the more ordinary cases. I hardly need to draw the parallel to the core message of many religious and spiritual movements. Do you have any clue who in your supplier, customer, or employee base is truly suffering? If not, then that’s your starting point of inquiry: survey this “sentiment landscape” to find out.

The title of this essay ends “in the age of Q” because many people sense we are in a dangerous position socially, environmentally, and politically. A mantra of the MAGA movement — with Q being one part of that platform — is “where we go one, we go all” — #WWG1WGA. This can be seen as a restatement of the Golden Rule. It is also a shift in consciousness towards social unity, and away from divide and conquer identity politics. That in turn implies a change in emphasis from “dominator” competition to “nurturer” cooperation.

Like it or not, there is a growing (and noisy!) set of people who sense epic societal change fast approaching. This is the “fall of the USSR” — but for the West. You might think of Q as the “new Brexit” in strategic planning, where the recently unthinkable quickly becomes operational reality. For we are in a fundamentally different timeline to the one that we would have faced if the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election had been different.

It is the job of senior strategic planners everywhere to build their scenarios on the world as it actually is (and may become), not what feels comfortingly familiar (or once was). The Q movement is a real thing, making justice, truth and liberty central societal issues. So far both Q and Q’s “anons” have proven to be accurate forecasters of significant world events over a sustained period.

Ignore these Q signals at your strategic planning peril.