Why you need Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson to run your next Strategic Planning Session?

A study by Franklin Covey the authors of the four disciplines of execution http://www.4dxbook.com/#/videos/overview/ revealed that most businesses fail to achieve their strategic objectives because they simply have too many.

The study showed that once companies spread their focus on three or more “BHAGS”, “Wildly Important Goals” or “Mission Critical Strategies”, [insert preferred buzzword here] their rate of success dropped close to zero.

One of the mantras of the four disciplines is “saying no to the good ideas, and only saying yes to the great ideas”

Steve Jobs is often quoted as being proud of the fact he said no to some really good product ideas as CEO of Apple “Focus is about saying, No. And the result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.”

So, despite the fact that this is common knowledge, why do companies continue to struggle to find focus when it comes to implementing their strategy?

As an avid Top Gear fan I believe that if Executives and Managers took a leaf out of Jeremy Clarkson’s “Cool Wall” book, companies would make a huge impact on their ability to implement strategy.

For those of you that don’t follow Top Gear it’s a UK motoring show, who’s host Jeremy Clarkson has a reputation for telling it as it is (political correctness is not his strong point).  The “Cool Wall” is the part of the show where the team, led by Jeremy review the latest cars on the market and assign them to one of four categories:

  1. Seriously Un cool
  2. Un cool
  3. Cool
  4. Sub Zero

The image below shows Jeremy and co-presenter Richard Hammond “discussing” (do you recognise the body language?) where this weeks car should be placed on the wall.

I’ve been in my fair share of strategic planning sessions over the years and the trouble is that most of them end up looking like the one in Figure 2 below.

Which if you look carefully has twelve initiatives in the “Sub Zero” zone, far too many.   How many will get implemented successfully? Probably zero, at best one or two.

However if we follow the Top Gear approach and adopt these three straightforward steps, we can make a massive impact on our chances of success.

  1. Create a simple set of criteria that can be applied to all strategic planning decisions
  2. Make sure that the criteria and the portfolio are reviewed and updated regularly
  3. Use strong independent facilitators for all planning sessions, no fence sitting allowed

Figure 2

Strategic Planning Session

1. Create a simple set of criteria that can be applied to all strategic planning sessions

The Top Gear rules are pretty straightforward.

Top Gear Rule 1

If any of the presenters owns a car on the “Cool Wall” then it is automatically classified as “Un cool”

Top Gear Rule 2

If any premier league football player owns a car on the wall then it is automatically classified as “Seriously Un cool”

Top Gear Rule 3

This one is based on Jeremy’s crush on the actress Kristin Scott Thomas.  To be classified as “Cool” or “Sub-Zero” Kristin would have to hold the driver of the car in high regard.

Ok, these might seem a bit light hearted for something a serious as strategy, but how often have you sat through a planning session where a “good” idea made into the plan because of the Halo effect of a dominant executive.  A clear set of rules and criteria agreed in advance reduces the risk of mediocre and even good ideas making the cut.

2. Make sure that the criteria and the portfolio are reviewed and updated regularly

Top Gear does this religiously every episode, and they don’t shy away from moving cars around on the wall if things have changed.  Your competitive and strategic environment changes at least a frequently as a premiership football player changes his car? Make sure you review your “Cool Wall” at least once a quarter, and don’t shy away from cancelling projects if they no longer meet your criteria.

3. Use strong and independent facilitators for all planning sessions, no fence sitting allowed

This is probably the hardest of the three rules to achieve.  Unless you are using an external facilitator (and even then if they are relying on being invited back they may not be to keen on explaining why the CEO’s pet project hasn’t made it in the “Sub Zero” category), ultimately it will down to your Board and Leadership team to set the tone from the top.   If they are seen to  ignore the rules, then don’t expect senior and middle management to follow suit.

However if you can instil the discipline to follow these three simple steps then maybe your strategy will finally stop spinning its wheels and start to get some traction.


  1. Really “Sub-Zero” work here! Its my turn at the office to share a new idea, and I am taking this one and printing this article as the handout, great job!!!!

  2. Love it! Not only is this a spot-on article but the next time I get nagged for watching too much Top Gear I’ve got the perfect excuse.

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