What can Prof. Van Helsing teach us about strategy?


The original Dracula!

Being a frequent flier, I get all the reading time I need.  Recently I finished reading the original Dracula by Bram Stoker.  Now, honestly, I had never read this before.  A little bit of personal pressure to read some literary classics pushed me to getting this downloaded onto the Kindle.  I put at the end of the post a brief comment on my new-found Kindle love.  I really dig it.

Anyway, as I neared the end of the book, it struck me that the process described in the book that the ‘team’ used to analyze the situation and then plan the hunt for Dracula, is a great example of simple strategy in action.  Let’s see what you think. . .

The strategy for hunting Dracula

To get us all set, the situation follows, and, have no fear, I won’t finish the story.  Yeah, I know it’s an old tale but I do recommend you give it a read if you have not, and if you haven’t read it I don’t want to be the spoiler.  After all these years, it was still a thriller even knowing the ending.

I’m not going to do the book justice, but a book reviewer I am not.  Just enough here to explain the link to strategy.

Key summary points:  Lawyer from England gets a job in Translvania (of course) working for a strange dude, the Count.  The lawyer get’s caught up in some weird stuff for a few weeks and eventually blacks-out, ending back up in England near death.  During the time the lawyer is recovering, a ship arrives into an English port with unexplainable loss of crew and captain.  Soon after the ship’s arrival, a woman is found drained of life and lethargic over multiple evenings/days.  Prof. Helsing is called in by an old friend to help assess the situation.  His arrival puts the basic strategic process into action.

First step, Van Helsing begins to collect information regarding what people involved know and what are the ‘facts’.  He ends up with some fundamental questions to answer:  Why is this woman bright and  active one day and lethargic the next?  Why is this woman losing blood?  What is causing the receding gum-line?  What are marks on the neck from?  Why doesn’t blood replacement work? etc.  He makes a few trips back and forth between Holland and England to dig into some archives or something.

During his trips, other involved people (the lawyer and wife – Harkers, mostly) collect and consolidate all known information from all parties – experiences, dates/times, findings, etc.  They pull together the recent events and even Harker’s journal from his visit to Transylvania!  They create a timeline and some of the known facts.  With Van Helsing back, all review consolidated history and Van Helsing begins to draw some conclusions.  He then wants to test those hypotheses and goes to do some field research.

During the investigation . . . another woman is affected!  Mrs. Harker.  A friend.  Time is of the essence.  Pressure mounts to deliver a solution.

The team renews the consolidated document.  Now fully updated the new information allows conclusions to be reinforced and modified.  Field research confirms suspicions.  Conclusions are updated again, now with specifics on potential solutions.  Action plans are debated and finally selected.

Then the team jumps into action!

As I noted above, book reviewing probably not my strong suit, but maybe you get the picture.

What’s the link to business strategy?

It’s the process.  It didn’t start with a bunch of templates and forms, nor start with general research in the community or talking to the local constable.  It started with building questions.  It started with a set of known facts and the questions that naturally resulted from those facts and from the parties already knowledgeable or experienced. The strategy started with people that had information.

Then, there was some research, some collection of data and information related to those core questions (Van Helsing went to Holland, others did local research, the consolidated history was developed).

Next, there was review of the known information.  Re-assessment of those first set of questions to validate them.  New questions were raised while some others were answered.  More field research was required.

Finally, clarity started to come through.  Real answers.  Clear priorities emerged and actions were developed.

It was four basic steps

Simplified and translated, the four steps are:

List the key questions to answer

Study your business/market/customer in order to answer those first set of important questions.

Sort the results of the studies.  Assess if there are new questions to answer and if so, study those.  When it seems the essence of the business situation is understood, prioritize the findings – you will have both problems to solve and opportunities to take advantage of.

Build the action plans to address the priorities.  Act!

That’s the basic series of steps that Van Helsing lead the team through in building the plan to hunt Count Dracula.  You’ll have to read the book to know if his strategy was successfully executed.

Ina prior post (linked here), a recommendation on how to start a business strategy process was outlined.  The recommendation is to – start with the questions.  This isn’t terribly magic but start from your gut – the questions you think need to be answered for your business.  Begin to investigate or interrogate these suspicions early.  As business leaders we have some knowledge and insight already; we are experienced.  Check-back on discoveries and the key questions.  It’s an iterative process.  When you have clearly identified and investigated the core questions you can then prioritize and plan activities and action.

Total side note here, I have a new-found respect for the Kindle (that’s an affiliate link to Amazon).  I didn’t think I would be converted.  But one reason I’ve been won over is the free e-book world.  When I found Project Gutenberg (link here) and all the classics available through that project, it made the Kindle much more valuable to me.  So, if you haven’t checked out the Project, jump to it and see if there’s anything you like out there for free.

Do me a favor, leave a comment below on your thoughts about this example of a simple strategy process in action.

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