Book Summary: The New How

Do you know what an air sandwich is? It's where the firm's new direction is communicated from an 80,000-foot vantage point to others with a 20,000-foot vantage point, who then try to coordinate the people on the ground. Making a large air sandwich.

There are a lot of nuances in those 60,000 feet. There are devils in the details, as well. The devil is in the details, and they hold the keys to triumph.

In the pages of this book, Nilofer Merchant gives us precisely that. A step-by-step guide to bridging the gap between strategy and implementation.

Once the strategy and implementation are separated, a business's CEO or executive team would often look down on their organization and remark that they're just not performing well.

And, more often than not, the execution team would look up at their leadership team and assume they didn't understand it.

How to Make an Air Sandwich

A director is communicating with a manager, which then try to coordinate with everyone at the field.

An air sandwich is caused by three systemic problems.

People first develop tunnel vision. They don't go above and beyond what they've been recruited to accomplish. Of course, on the surface, this doesn't appear to be an issue.

However, consider this: Cross-functional engagement is important for speed to market, which is frequently a significant component of the strategy process.

Get your mouth open and prepare for a great big mouthful of air sandwich if you aren't willing to work for and with other areas of your business.

The second tendency identified by Merchant is getting ahead of yourself. It's an emphasis on doing rather than thinking together.

How can you expect people to completely participate in their job if you don't figure out how you're going to get there with them? You can't do it. Another mouthful of the sandwich is in order.

The "that's not my job" habit is the final failure pattern. This is similar to tunnel vision's relative. It's seeing an issue that has to be addressed and knowing that you should take action but opting not to do so because it's either above or below your pay grade.

It's time to finish that final sandwich mouthful. To wash everything down, there's a good large glass of collaborative strategy. The quest method that Merchant proposes as a solution to the air sandwich follows.

Phase 1 - Questions

A male manager asking himself if he is asking the right questions to determine the scope of the problem.

We need to know if we're asking the right questions before we go on to developing solutions. The first step will be to determine the scope of the problem. This is the procedure for deciding what issues we feel should be addressed.

This is referred to as "problem architecture." We'll characterize the problem or opportunity in the same way that an architect would. Before we begin, we must first comprehend what we are constructing.

Second, we'll conduct a fact-finding trip. We'll go elephant hunting, interviewing, and investigating to discover the symbolic elephants in the room.

The most essential thing to do is to talk to as many individuals as possible who will have an opinion on the matter. There's a chance they'll find some metaphorical elephants in the room. You have a greater understanding of how objects appear from various angles.

Sitting down with the members of your team will provide you with these diverse viewpoints. "Whom you ask shapes what you learn," Merchant adds.

As a result, consider your options carefully and intelligently. Ask each individual you interview to refer three additional people they believe should be included in the process, as she suggests. This way, you'll be able to find everyone you need to speak with about your problem.

Here are a few questions to get you started on your investigation.

  • What do we know about previous work that has been done? What was the situation?
  • What were the outcomes of their efforts?
  • What information do we require to understand why something worked or did not work?

Third, you'll have to report back to the team on the findings of your fact-finding expedition. The antidote for an air sandwich isn't PowerPoint death.

So don't make the mistake of putting your results into a massive report. In general, grouping your findings into the four categories below works well.

  • What is known and verifiable
  • What you think but don't have enough evidence to back up
  • What you are unsure of
  • What doesn't fit

Remember, if you start looking for solutions at this stage, you'll be making the exact error you're trying to avoid. This procedure should take anything from one to 10 weeks to complete.

After you've completed the first one to ten weeks, we'll go to phase two, which is all about vision.

Phase 2 - Vision

A male choosing which milk is best for him at this current situation.

A vision, according to Merchant, tries to answer "What is the best collection of choices for you, given your situation in a certain set of circumstances?" Keep in mind that this isn't an ivory tower exercise.

You need to get genuine outcomes and deal with reality. This phase includes only two steps: generating many choices and tracking criteria that will be used to shape selections in the next stage.

This phase's objective is to get people from all levels of the organization involved. It's time to put the meat on the sandwich.

The focus of the development sessions you'll have will be on investigating options. As a result, you'll want to ask questions such as, "What if we...?" "Does there have to be a cause for...?" "How about we try...?"

Take as many different approaches as you can. As a leader, it's your responsibility to create a secure atmosphere for people to share their ideas. But don't be so focused on doing so that you don't cause any good conflict.

This isn't the place for harmony. You could also be tempted to keep your favorite ideas for last and then implement them immediately. DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.

The "criteria trap," as Merchant refers to it, is one of the most crucial phases in the overall process. As you progress through the choices process, you'll likely come across several definitions of success.

You should investigate them and ensure that everyone is on the same page when defining success. It's easy to get sidetracked by what appears to be a brilliant concept. Still, it has nothing to do with your specific problem. DON'T GET CAUGHT IN THE TRAP.

Because this process involves more than one person or function in the organization, make sure you provide success criteria for each of the company's departments. Product development, sales, and human resources are just a few examples.

Don't know how to make that criterion? Here are some examples of measures.

  • It will be large enough to be a team's primary emphasis.
  • It will be accessible in areas with a strong presence and are currently well-positioned to market it.
  • It will use our key competencies and meet our income requirements for the next four years.

That is really specific.

Understand that, even if the results of the process may not surprise you as the CEO, the aim is to create a massive level of alignment toward a common goal and the specifics that will need to be addressed.

Please keep in mind that the lack of those items caused your earlier attempts to fail. This step should be completed in one to six weeks.

Phase 3 - Select

A female selecting the best answer for her online test. Just like a business, we'll want to make the best decision.

When it comes to selecting what side dish to eat for lunch, often good enough is good enough. What clothing goes with that bag, for example.

When a whole business's future success or failure is at risk, though, you'll want to make the best decision possible.

"Most organizations can align with only a certain number of efforts at a time," Merchant explains.

As a result, determining which cars or methods to avoid is equally crucial. While there are several books and theories on generating ideas, there are few theories on how to limit it down to just one.

Until Merchant taught us murder boarding, that is. Here are a few items that are lining up for the chopping block. Weak ideas and good choices were presented at inopportune times. Very pleasant individuals come up with good ideas. The objective is to make the best decision possible.

It's important to note that we're not talking about maximizing, which entails going through each option in great detail but never really making a decision. But we don't want to be satisfied, so we choose the first option that meets the bare minimum of criteria.

This is about determining the best alternative within a predetermined set of criteria, which includes time.

This procedure is divided into four phases. They are as follows:

  • Choosing what is important. This implies we're formalizing the criteria we've been experimenting with up until now. We won't be able to make any decisions until the entire company has agreed on the requirements.
  • Sort. We'll figure out which concepts satisfy the requirements and which don't.
  • Test. We'll test the approach in a hypothetical con book to see what new insights emerge.
  • Choose. We pick a strategy to implement based on all of our work up to this point.

This procedure usually takes one day to complete, although it may take a little longer in rare cases.

Phase 4 - Take

Two parties agreeing on the terms and conditions, with a quantifiable agreement about who owns what.

Finally, we've arrived at phase four, which is Take.

Take, for example, the point when the rubber joins the road. We all come to a clear and quantifiable agreement about who owns what. Some could argue that it's converting it into a SMART objective.

Here are some questions you may ask them to help you and your team understand this phase.

  • What are the most important steps you need to take to make this a reality?
  • Is there anything you need to alter in your company to make this happen?
  • What are your unique reliances on deliverables from other groups?
  • What dangers do we need to be aware of?

It doesn't matter the format you use to record all of the information. As long as you examine them regularly, challenge assumptions, and get a little neurotic about whether or not you'll actually complete the task, you're good.


Most businesses have a significant gap between strategy and implementation. Knowing what actions to take might mean the difference between remaining alive and closing your business.

Make sure you follow these instructions. But don't forget to reward those on your squad that joins in on the task. Your whole staff, as well as your shareholders, whoever they are, will be grateful.

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