Creating valuable strategic options with the WIST structure

As described in the first article on the Strategic Mobilisation Canvas, strategy is the process of creating the right choices to achieve your business and corporate aspirations. In this article, we will explore an effective technique that I use to create and select the best options when making strategic decisions.

The technique I will share is a complementary approach to the ‘What If’ section in the Strategic Mobilisation Canvas. It effectively embodies the five principles underlying the canvas, with a particular highlight on principle number two – ‘Creating choices rather than a fixed plan‘. More information about the canvas can be seen at the previous post.

People often struggle to create tangible and valuable ideas during ideation activities. Participants tend to be held back by weak ideas and unclear, wishful thinking regarding their business goals and drivers. Therefore, to overcome this challenge during strategic sessions, I invited participants to create options using the text structure of ‘What If–So That’ (WIST) questions.

These two elements combine in the following structure:

What if [we perform a specific option]
So that [a potential benefit or impact is consequently gained].

This structure derives from techniques like design thinking and user story writing. It is a simple and useful tool to encourage participants to think about new, valuable possibilities. Here are a few examples of using the WIST structure to devise strategic initiative options:

  • What if we establish strategic partnerships with smaller local companies so that we could reduce our response time and save operational costs in our services?

  • What if we strengthen our brand awareness and market positioning regarding B2B services so that we can leverage more business opportunities for value-added services?

  • What if we hired people from the wider LATAM area outside Brazil so that we increase our capability readiness and improve our cost of delivery?

  • What if we acquire a small company with proven experience in a particular sector so that we will accelerate our portfolio expansion and revenue source diversification?

This text structure encourages deeper conversations regarding perceptions of the value and complexity of each strategic idea. Additionally, it gives more substance to identifying effective strategic moves in a given theme, as demonstrated in Figure 1 below.   

Figure 1 – Ideation process based on WIST options.
Figure 1 – Ideation process based on WIST options.

It is important to recognise that the options can be evaluated against a different set of scenarios to prioritise and select the best ideas to be implemented. Scenario planning will be covered in further detail in future blog posts.

Developing viable and impactful strategies is challenging and doesn’t happen overnight. A reasonable amount of effort is needed to identify signals, trends, opportunities, threats, and capabilities. Collecting these types of information is vital for preparing and enabling ideation exercises during strategic sessions. With these elements in place, the participants will be more adequately equipped to develop elaborate strategies using the WIST structure.

The WIST structure helps to overcome the difficulties in creating tangible and valuable ideas. It allows the user to navigate obstacles and maximise their existing strengths to develop winning strategies. Additionally, they will have more information to decide on the best options for a given scenario. I hope you find this approach useful as well. Please feel free to use the WIST structure yourself to create more effective strategic moves in your own contexts and business themes.


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