The Un-Strategy

By | November 16, 2020

I have been legitimately and constructively criticized for spending too much time in my seminars describing the issue at hand, building urgency to change and identifying what people are doing wrong.

The advice I’ve received is to do what other speakers do: Tell stories about what should be done and ignore what should not be done.

I’m working on finding the right balance. Psychologically speaking, focusing on the goal is the right advice. “Look to where you want to go.” “Drive to the point.” “Stay focused on the end goal.” All these adages are correct, with a catch.

The catch in keeping your eyes on the prize is that the goal must be immediate, or it lacks tangibility. Additionally, saying, “Stay focused” is easy. Staying focused for a long time is much more difficult. A crucial key to staying focused is eliminating distractions. Many distractions are in the category of “What should not be done.”

Another key for focusing more successfully is emphasizing execution rather than strategy. Without intense focus on execution, strategy usually does more damage than good. After all, strategy without execution is worthless, at best. Execution without any new strategy can often work quite well for a long time.

Knowing what to do generally should begin with the knowledge of what not to do. Eliminate distractions such as a messy desk so the person can focus on what actually needs to be achieved. The difference is that the person is not focusing on what not to do. Instead, those distractions are being eliminated so the person can focus on what to do. This is why I begin many presentations with what not to do.

The other advantage of this approach is that it prevents many faulty starts. By eliminating the distractions, humans are more likely to find the right solutions more quickly. The way the human brain generally works before those distractions are cleared is it creates an emphasis on finding the exact right solution immediately.

A client of mine uses the analogy of fishing (and he is a good fisherman): “I don’t know where the fish are, and I don’t pretend to know where the fish are. I eliminate where they are not which immediately increases the odds of finding them.”

Bayesian Theory

In the high-level numbers world, this is the basis of Bayesian Theory. Quit pretending to have all of the answers or having the need to discover the right answer the first time. Life is too complex. Eliminate the known losers, and finding the winners will be easier.

In sales, what I know relative to this approach is that if one eliminates all potential prospects that will never buy from you, the odds of making sales to others will increase. This strategy is more efficient (take less time), and you will make more money.

I also know that insureds do not need agents who do not know what they are doing. I am not saying all insureds need agents who know what they are doing.

Not needing incompetent and uneducated agents is not equal to not always needing the smartest agent. Being uneducated is where no success (no fish) exists. Does this mean success is guaranteed if one is well educated in insurance knowledge? No, but the odds are much higher.

One of the advantages of eliminating the negative space is that the person minimizes some of life’s complexities. A client sent me the book, “Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated.” A great read.


Switching to management, why is managing producers so complicated? Because managers make managing producers too complex. They do not eliminate what is known not to work, especially with producers who do not produce.

By giving producers extra chances, forgiving them when they don’t follow procedures, and so forth, one is making life more complex. Give them hard parameters for doing their jobs and provide them with the training they need. Then, make it simple – let them decide if they want to succeed. Quit holding their hand for 10 or 20 years.

Why is hand holding so prevalent in the industry? Because people like drama. People dislike accountability. Strategy and strategic planning provide drama without accountability. Simplicity and execution can be boring and carries a high degree of accountability.

Many leaders like to portray the charade of power, strategy, big plans and the drama of getting big things done regardless of whether big things ever get done.

A well-known insurance company that has lost money for 10 consecutive years – years in which carriers averaged about $50 billion in annual profits – and has not materially grown in that time constantly releases great strategic plans with all of the dramatic terms. Its latest is that it will double in size. But, nothing is ever done to successfully execute these plans, or at least the execution does not indicate success.

A leader must truly want real results — whether drama is or is not involved — if they are to achieve real results. Their focus must be on achieving the results – the drama, often the strategy, must be set aside. To start, do not consider any strategies that do not have a high degree of black and white accountability built into them. Consider strategies with high probabilities that execution can be achieved.

I cannot find much evidence to support that most hedge funds or private equity make much money, except for the managers of these entities. Two though have made a lot of money over a long period of time. One is Norges Bank Investment Management, Norway’s sovereign fund.

The long-time manager of the fund recently retired and offered this advice using an analogy to tennis. First, do not make basic mistakes. Be solid. Only then should one be smart.

Zen and the Art Of…

In tennis terms, this means “Don’t make stupid errors, keep the ball in play, and when you finally do this well, be patient for an opportunity to make a kill shot.” “Zen and the Art of Tennis” (In other words, Zen and the Art of Archery, Zen and the Art of whatever else uses the same philosophy from different angles that might be more beneficial for different readers).

I can tell you that my clients who devoted the last two years to developing great basic skills are increasing sales today, in the pandemic, and at a record pace. I believe the least is 15% (not including rate increases). I take some credit relative to my Three Dimensional Training® program. When one truly knows their coverages, deeply knows their coverages, they can be so much smarter and innovative as to how to apply and execute those coverages relative to each specific client.

Without deep coverage knowledge, strategic sales and risk management are oxymoronic practices. It means making stupid errors over and over while pretending to be smart. A strategy without a deep foundational knowledge of execution is a multi-story building with a bad foundation. Easy credit will buttress the walls for some time, but no real success will be achieved unless the real estate is sold to someone else quickly.

Identify what does not work. Focus on execution and avoid the distractions of sexy initiatives until your foundation is strong enough to support them. Buy into the value of using a more boring but more successful approach, and you are likely to find a lifetime of success for yourself, your employees and your clients.

About Chris Burand

Burand is the founder and owner of Burand & Associates LLC based in Pueblo, Colo. Phone: 719-485-3868. E-mail: More from Chris Burand

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Insurance Journal West November 16, 2020
November 16, 2020
Insurance Journal West Magazine

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