What Can a Horse Teach Us About Strategy?

Yes. You read that right, a Horse!

In the early 1900s, a horse – Clever Hans, was a German celebrity. Hans had exhibited a remarkable understanding of the German Language and mastery of math! Amidst roaring crowds in his tours, Hans would answer numeric math questions (ex: additions, subtractions, multiplications and more) by tapping his hoof the exact number of times. Even a board appointed by the German Department of Education in 1904 did not find any subterfuge, leaving Hans’ mastery a mystery.

The mystery was solved by psychologist Oskar Pfungst in 1907. Using a known fact that horses communicate with each other through body language, Oskar figured out that Hans had developed his amazing ability by reading the facial expressions, emotions, intentions and body language of people who are watching him. Hans began tapping his hoof and when the tension in his audience’s body language transformed to excitement, amazement, and laughter, he knew he had the right answer and would STOP tapping!

So, what’s the horse teaching us?

“Know when to Stop”.

‘Acceptance’ is a key success criteria for any strategy. Often in Strategy meetings, we primarily look for participants’ verbal responses for acceptance. However, the secret to whether or not they have really ‘bought-in’ to our strategy and truly accepted it, lies in front of our eyes as subtle, powerful, non-verbal cues.

Even before thoughts are verbalized, posture, emotions, and intentions, basically the body language gives it all out. It’s what they don’t say that counts.

Mindfully paying attention to the body language of the people in the room will help decide whether our strategy stands a winning chance or needs adjustment.

If there is tension or lack of engagement or people appear to have tuned out, it is not them, it is our strategy.

  1. STOP pushing it
  2. Go back to the drawing board.
  3. Rework, and
  4. Regroup

A horse can read us, we are that predictable. So, don’t work up a sweat in your strategy meetings :-)

What’s your experience using non-verbal cues to deduce acceptance of your strategies?

Senthil Sundaram
Senthil Sundaramhttp://www.consupts.com
An experienced strategist, enterprise transformation expert with over 20 years of experience in IT, Retail, eCommerce, Healthcare, Pharmacy, Travel/Hospitality, Education, Sports/Entertainment & Insurance industries. An enthusiastic leader at heart, challenges drive and excite me. Believing that the devil IS in the details, I seek out a 360° perspective of every enterprise I work with. For leading epic enterprise transformations and innovating game-changing solutions, I'm a trusted advisor and peer to CxOs and BODs across the world Work/Consulting portfolio includes Fortune 100/500 companies such as Siemens, GE, Walgreens, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Towers Watson and several small-medium enterprises across the world. Educated in USA with Master of Science in Computer Engineering and several executive/leadership trainings at Ivy League business schools in USA, I am a voracious reader, a minimalist, a nature lover, psychology enthusiast, and an avid cyclist.




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