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Think like a jet pilot to improve your creative strategy

Masterclass trainer Uri Baruchin explains how to tackle creative challenges

Illustration by Julia Wytrazek

Strategy consultant Uri Baruchin says that most of the time, teams and brands get stuck not just because their strategic thinking is bad, but because it isn’t a strategy at all. “A lot of strategies are simply a kind of bombastic reiteration of the objective,” he explains. “Strategy is almost, by definition, how you're going to achieve your end goal, but there are still a lot of cases when clients will say things like, ‘Our strategy is to become one of the top three players in this category by 2025’. Okay, it's a nice ambition to have — but it's not a strategy.”

Baruchin has spent the last twenty years working in the world of digital and brand building and has helped shape brands like Nestle, Sony, Deloitte and Kantar. His D&AD Masterclass Think, Plan, Act: How to be Strategic is designed to hone your strategic instincts, boosting your problem-solving abilities to unlock the route to greater creative success.

For Baruchin, strategic thinking is all about “taking things back to basics”: stripping out the fluff and bombast in order to understand what good strategy actually looks like. Here, he shares how one particular method of thinking will assist that kind of clear, concise decision-making.  

Start noticing the patterns

Baruchin has always been interested in the way ideas are made concrete. Coming into the industry “as an outsider,” he quickly developed an avid fascination with the repeat patterns, tools and frameworks that marketing draws on when it comes to strategic thinking. “The best strategies take things that are abstract and find a way to turn them into reality,” Baruchin explains. “At best, it is like magic, because magic, by definition, is kind of like controlling and manipulating reality,” he says.

He gives examples of common frameworks, ranging from Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle (why, how, what) and the get/ who/ to/ buy model that’s known to underpin Unilever’s brand strategy. “I have a fantastic collection of absolutely bizarre brand frameworks that I've collected throughout the years,” he says. “What happens when you start collecting frameworks and models obsessively is that you start noticing that some patterns repeat. Noticing those repeating patterns can lead to some interesting insights.” One of Baruchin’s key takeaways is that many of these strategic models not only overlap but borrow from other industries or disciplines such as engineering or the military. In taking a wider overview of their similarities, many of them can be boiled down to a simple formula: think, plan, act.

Borrowing from pilots

One of Baruchin’s areas of interest is military strategy, and he’s inspired particularly by United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd’s OODA loop, which follows the pattern observe-orient-decide-act. “It was developed for jet fighter pilots so that they can think strategically while dogfighting in the sky,” Baruchin says. Although its origins are firmly in the high-stakes, high-adrenaline arena of combat, OODA exhibits similarities to strategic thinking in other industries and commercial operations.

“I find it hilarious because in so many cases people will tell me, ‘Oh, with this project, the timeline just doesn't allow us to be very strategic.’ I'm like, ‘you know, if a jet fighter pilot in the sky can be strategic in 30 seconds, you can be strategic too.’” At its heart, it’s a simple way of approaching strategy, creating a model for careful observation, decisive action and constant feedback, which means you can constantly strengthen your position. Or, as Baruchin explains the loop: “You learn from the actions, and then go back to the beginning of the process again.”

The benefit of a simple formula like this is not just how it prioritises the human capacity for analysis, but the way it offers a unifying principle for strategic thinking that synthesises so many of those other marketing models. “The approach explains how agility can overcome raw power in dealing with human opponents,” Baruchin says, adding that it’s just as applicable to cybersecurity as it is to military combat or marketing. For him, this isn’t just about one set of tools or another. The unifying principles of frameworks “signify fundamental things about how our brain works…and how our thinking has evolved as humans.”

D&AD’s Think, Plan, Act: How to be Strategic is a three-hour masterclass conducted over Zoom that teaches you how to apply strategic thinking to any creative brief, design challenge or business problem you’re looking to solve. Through looking at some of the fundamental ideas driving strategy, you’ll develop new patterns of thinking and working to take you swiftly towards your end goal. Sign up here. You can also explore do at your own pace courses here, as well as upcoming in-person and online teaching here.

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