Shakespeare was a ‘rocket’! Who else could ask a crowd to ” listen up” by beseeching them to “lend me your ears”? I have to confess that good old William doesn’t do much for me and despite his wonderful composition and traditional phraseology I can’t get my head around most of his communications. But I’m not a complete Philistine and I do try to get ‘savvy’ with ‘Bill’ from time to time.

I think it was one of those times that led to my discovery of Mark Anthony’s speech to the Romans regarding the death of Caesar and those famous words ‘lend me your ears’. I recall that I was looking for inspiration in writing a response to someone who had asked me about strategic philosophy and how a strategic plan was built. I wanted to talk about observation; about listening and I came across this inspiring oratory.

The preparation of strategic plans falls into the ‘mystery category’ for most businesses and when people ask me how to train their minds in this unusual discipline I recommend that they read Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ and ‘The Book of Lord Shang’. Perhaps they should also study the strategic politics behind, The Suez War; Korea; Vietnam; Desert Storm and the latest debacle in Iraq. Heavy reading for most, but war does bring out the best in tactical science and the strategy behind why war exists at all, is fascinating.

As I studied the spoils of war and more importantly the strategic manoeuvres behind the scenes, I made a stunning discovery. Every disaster had one common denominator. A single important issue which went to the heart of every error – every loss. It was that little phrase “lend me your ears”. In every case the architect of the plan didn’t listen and as a consequence the plan faltered.

But then I had a blinding flash of the obvious. It wasn’t that simple, there was much more and while reading Bob Woodward’s ‘The War Within’ it hit me. It wasn’t just listening that mattered it was ‘listening strategically’ and that brings up a whole new field of disciplines.

If you’re not ‘listening strategically’ you’re either hearing or just listening and they are all very different. Strategic listening demands that what you hear is referred to another section of our human computer – our brain. What we need is to compute in a tactical state ofmind, one which addresses questions of vision, assumption, alternate consequence and scenario outcomes. Thinking such as ‘what happens if this occurs’ and ‘how do we cope with this scenario’ or ‘perhaps this may be happening’. It’s like playing mental chess, we foresee the move and calculate the next move before it happens. All that multiplied by 200 moves

Strategic thinking, like chess is not for everyone, and after reading Woodward’s account of the war room dramas behind the 2006 – 2008 Iraq debacle, it’s clear to me that the US President should have stuck to draughts. He received all the information from the heavy weights in the field and seemingly didn’t compute it strategically. He was hearing, even listening, but not strategically.

In a strategic sense there is much to learn from the tragedies of war but when the remedies are so simple it’s hard to understand how our leaders can get it so wrong. Thankfully my team and I, don’t have life and death scenarios on which our advise depends – we’re dealing with markets, but we take it mighty seriously and we listen strategically, because it’s likely to be some one’s future at stake.

Perhaps today I might borrow the soliloquy of the ‘Bard’ himself and fashion my own paraphrase – “Friends; Businesses; Countrymen, lend me your strategic lug holes.”