Flamingo for breakfast

Strategy tends to be regarded as a journey – a long journey. It’s resource intensive, requires strong planning, begs definitive choices, and only survives with continued shepherding. It’s like the great migration across the Serengeti and Maasai Mara. But the migration takes months. You have to eat daily. People often forget that part. Strategy is also something you need to do every day – like eating breakfast.


We sat in the muddy land cruiser continuing to gaze at a group of brilliantly colored flamingos that represented the nearly 2 million pink birds residing around the lake. The morning was eventful already, having seen some elusive rhinos in the lower bush. We were camping on Lake Nakuru, where rambunctious water buffalo can be more dangerous in the night than lions to tent-camping enthusiasts like ourselves.

As we sat there at the edge of the firmer dirt, which quickly transitioned ahead to mud and algae-covered water, we noticed a new entrant off to our left. A lumbering, slow but steady-moving silhouette through the morning fog. He was heading right toward – or past – us in the direction of the lake.

A hyena.

It was a little strange, even for more frequent visitors ourselves. We were equally confused by the fact that this focused hyena was alone as well as that he was heading directly toward the lake. As we watched him continue his awkward but steady pace, then watched the dense flock of pink flamingos out in the bay of the lake, then back at the hyena…it occurred to us. He’s going to try to catch a flamingo.

The odds were likely 1 in a million – roughly the number of flamingos standing out there – that he would actually catch one. He wasn’t watching, waiting, sneaking or in any way calculating, as far as we could tell. And there was a long way for him to go. They, and we, could all see him coming. And yet he was just…running straight at them.

“He’s actually going to try to get one,” one of our party finally said out loud.

Some of the flamingos apparently heard or agreed, as they began inching away from the bank as well. Their brilliant pink feathers ruffled as they shifted their wings and pivoted on one leg or two each. Their chatter began to get louder as well.

But he kept running, steady and surely.

We watched with intrigue as the lumbering hyena continued to run toward the water, picking up more speed now as he went. He maintained the same line – straight – as he ran. The mud and water puddles began to kick in the air as his paws dug in.

Faster, he ran toward the wall of pink.

“What are they doing?” We thought. 

The flamingos were still standing there – likely still wondering how in the world this solo pack animal was so oddly advancing. They were beginning to back away from the water’s edge into deeper water faster, but they were bunching and packing into one another. Some even began to take flight, and they too collided in the fray.

The strategy became clear. The hyena was making himself a live bowling ball into a front line of pins that ironically had nowhere to go due to their own close company.

Out into the water, he thrust himself with head up and jaws snapping at the air around him. The flamingos continued to collide with one another in desperation to escape. And then finally, quite haphazardly, he got one.

It was so simple and yet brilliant. There wasn’t much to it. It wasn’t a grand plan with coordinating and support from the rest of the pack. It wouldn’t provide a meal for the week. But it was breakfast – and that was more than any of the other hyenas had so far.


Whenever we author and plan strategic endeavors, we always look ahead to where we want to go. We look at the “outside-in,” the roadmap, the capabilities, the threats, the investments, and so on. In fact, we look so much to the horizon, we have to work our way back intentionally to ask ourselves what steps need to be taken to get there. Even then, however, those steps are building toward something great and fantastic: our newest summit in a long line of great accomplishments. But what about today?

Strategy isn’t just about the destination. And it’s not even just about the journey. It’s also about today.  

Sometimes we call these the “quick wins,” but that’s a misnomer. Even when we say “quick wins,” what we really mean is that we need evidence to prove the roadmap was right. We need cultural buy-in and momentum. We need communication content and successes to recognize. All of that is helpful and necessary.

But let’s look at it another way. Strategy should also be about today. Because of our strategy, we should be different today than we were yesterday. Further down the path, building different muscles and skills, more experienced than we were before. We aren’t just creating wins for tomorrow. We’re winning for…today! 

That’s perhaps what the hyena knew as he thought about the buffalo the pack was tracking. It was going to take more time and more preparation. More tracking, more calculating. But in the meantime, he needed to stretch his legs and build his muscles. He needed practice, and he needed breakfast. That breakfast was a flamingo.


A great strategy includes milestones that are wins in and of themselves. They build muscles, new habits, and learning. You don’t want to stop there, but they’re already gains for the team, organization, and customers. They are gratifying and satisfying in the here and now.

Even your most diligent planners, project or program managers, analysts, and so on will become tired without short term successes. As humans we need some gratification along the way. Moreover, there’s evidence that culture eats strategy eventually, hence the sayings. But it doesn’t have to if you’ve already intentionally given people strategy for breakfast.

  • Is your strategy made simple enough that anyone should know how to help achieve it, or does it require knowing every presentation slide and step in the playbook?
  • Do you or your team create short-term wins simply as proof-points for the longer haul, or do you also create wins for the needs of today?
  • Do you regularly measure your success today as compared to your mission, your purpose, and what guides you, or only how far you still are from the vision? In other words, do you have ways to measure by accuracy to the compass versus a mile marker?
  • Perhaps in your career you have a longer term idea or specific role in mind you are working toward. What is success for you today or this year, which may help you get there in the future?

People are almost always excited about the journey and the eventual destination. But anyone who has driven a car full of adventurers knows they also need breakfast. What might be your strategy’s flamingo next month, or next quarter? Like the hyena’s plan in this story, not all of the strategy needs to be so secretive that we keep it bunkered below Fort Knox. What could you be more open about in the why, what, and how of your strategy, pointing to both internal and external stakeholders? Hint, it’s not the strategy-on-a-page printout…

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