A model to help you get through the fog

What do I mean by “landscape”?

I was first introduced to the landscape metaphor in Sam Harris’ book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. Dr. Harris asks us to imagine a landscape that stretches as far as we can see in all directions. The landscape is made up of hills and valleys. In Harris’ landscape, the height of the land represents the level of well-being. Hills represent situations with greater overall well-being, and valleys have lower overall well-being. Hills are better than valleys, and higher hills are thus better than lower hills.

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Figure 1: a landscape (image by the Dan Kiskis)

We can draw a 2-dimensional version of this landscape as shown…

Having a strategy can help you get to “No”

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Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash

Sometimes you don’t want certain types of work

I’ve mentioned in a previous article about how I used to help my wife run her pastry business. She made a wide assortment of authentic French pastries, but eventually her specialty became macarons. As far as we know, she was the first person to sell macarons in Michigan. She saw the fad for macarons arriving, and she got ahead of it.

As macarons became more popular, she eventually got her first order for them for a wedding reception. She had never provided pastries for a wedding before. …

Did you remember the most important part?

This isn’t the article that I had intended to write

My original idea for this article was to dive into the heart of all the terminology around a strategy to find the part that is actually “the strategy”. By this, I mean “strategy” in the everyday sense. What is the core principle, idea, or decision that is being applied to get from the current state to somewhere closer to the vision.

… and then something strange happened.

I was looking back at my Strategy 101 article so that I could reference the terms that I define there. I wanted to link that to my Strategy on a Page that I’ve…

Porter’s three types of strategic positioning applied to your department

Stepping out of the shadows

In 2010, I was hired to work in the new Teaching and Learning (T&L) Department that had been created in the central IT organization of the university where I am still employed. A software development group from the technology incubator part of the university was being moved into central IT. For the previous 10 years, this group had been developing novel software to support on-line coursework. The software started as simple web-based tools and eventually evolved into the Sakai Learning Management System. The group had started by supporting a few early-adopter professors who wanted to add on-line activities to their…


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Photo by Matt Lee on Unsplash

An unexpected advantage

Early in my career, I was hired to manage the software development team for a prestigious research project at a large research university. I started the job about a year into the project. The project was run by 10 professors from various colleges in the university. I decided that my first task was to find out what the current state of the project was and what they were trying to accomplish.

I reviewed existing documentation including software designs and the research proposal. I spoke with the developers, graduate students, and the professors. After a week or so, I wrote up…


Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits taken to a new level

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Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Stephen Covey wrote the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” in 1989. It’s become an international best seller. It’s a book that everyone seems to have heard of. I certainly had, but I had never read it. I avoided it because it had a clickbait title before clickbait even existed. I figured it was a fluffy self-help book for underconfident people, like something written by Al Franken’s Stuart Smalley character. Why should I waste my time on it?

Recently, it showed up as a recommended title on my Kindle reading list. It was free to read as an…

Defining a service around your product

What services do you provide?

This is a common question that I hear being asked to leaders of IT departments. Usually, the answer is just a list of the technology products they provide to their customers. They may do an excellent job building and supporting those products. They test them before release. They monitor their performance, and they fix bugs quickly. However, simply providing a technology to people is not providing a service.

Let me use an analogy.

Welcome to Cecilia’s Pastries.

For a dozen years, my wife, Cecilia, ran her own pastry business as a French Pastry Chef. Cecilia was born in Paris, France. She grew up in…

What I learned by driving to Denver

I’ve driven across the American Great Plains three times in my life.

It’s a long and sometimes boring drive. Depending on how often you stop, it takes a few days of driving to get to the Rocky Mountains.

Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I live, is at about 1,000 ft. of elevation above sea level. Denver, Colorado, the “Mile High City”, is at about 5,000 ft. elevation. So in the drive from Ann Arbor to Denver, you will increase your elevation about 4,000 ft. Because the 1,200 mile drive to Denver is across the plains, you don’t really notice the increase in elevation. It’s about 3 feet per mile.

Because the drive takes…

How not to get lost

At least we had a map

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Image from https://www.orangesmile.com/common/img_city_maps/bonn-map-1.jpg

Back in 1996, my colleague Gene and I were invited to participate in an international workshop on digital library metadata near Bonn, Germany. We flew into Frankfurt, rented a car, grabbed a map from the car rental office, and drove off to our hotel in the heart of Bonn. I was driving, and Gene was my navigator.

As we entered Bonn, I asked Gene what exit to take and what street I needed to be on. He pulled the map out of the glovebox, unfolded it, and searched for the exit and street. …

Starting your Strategy with Why

What is Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle?

The TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” by Simon Sinek is one of the most viewed of all time. In that talk, he talks about one of the core concepts of his book, “Start With Why”. You can watch the TED talk here:

The Golden Circle is a drawing of three concentric circles with Why written in the middle. The next level is marked How, and the outer level What.

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Sinek’s Golden Circle (image by the author)

Sinek’s Golden Circle is a visual representation of his thesis for how to get people to follow your idea, buy your product, or join your cause. People will…

Dan Kiskis, PhD

IT strategy expert, Enterprise Architect, Stoic, Humanist. I like to help people find the path to what they think is important. https://usingstrategy.com

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