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Meaningful technology for humans How strategy helps to deliver real value for people

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Tags: StrategyUX StrategyVisionUX VisionBusiness Mission

At Silicon Techie Night #24, I shared my insights and impulses about strategy: When we want to create truly meaningful technology for humans, how can strategy help us to deliver real value?

What makes technology meaningful to humans?

Technology is all around us and has fundamentally shifted our daily lives. Many of us are actively creating technology everyday, during our jobs as developers, designers, or similar job profiles. This makes it natural for us to think of technology in terms of questions like these:

  • How can we take data-driven decisions?
  • How can artificial intelligence increase our efficiency?
  • How can we leverage technological innovations?
  • And how can we benefit from new business models?

All of these questions are valuable to ask, but I want to focus on the customer side today: What makes technology meaningful for humans? By identifying this, organisations have a higher chance of serving their customers right.

Consumers do not buy products. They buy product benefits.
David Ogilvy

This quote by David Ogilvy was very inspirational to me, but also confusing at first sight. After all, customers do enter the market saying "I want a quarter-inch drill". Getting deeper, we could look at Theodore Levitt's famous quote: "People do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole."

But is that true? Is having a quarter-inch hole in the wall meaningful? Most often, the hole is probably not the goal, but a means to an end. Humans use the hole in the wall to hang pictures and furniture on the wall, but most often, their real human needs go deeper, for example having photos of their family nearby to feel connected or remember precious moments.

Digital technology is the same. It needs to fulfil meaningful human needs. If technology manages to achieve this, it can provide real value for people, and as I will show in the remainder of this article, strategy helps us to streamline and optimise the process of value-creation.

Impulses: How strategy helps to deliver real value for people

Below is the presentation of my talk. It focused on ten impulses to explain how strategy helps to deliver real value for people.

Business mission

Strategy always serves a purpose. In the context of an organisation, this purpose is our business mission. Everything that an organisation does has to serve this mission. So, my first impulse for strategy is: Strategy needs to align all areas of an organisation with this business mission.

Let us look at an example from Spotify. On their company information page, Spotify reveals that their "mission is to unlock the potential of human creativity—by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it." Mission statements like these outline clearly why the organisation exists. In Spotify's case, it is to act as a platform between artists (who receive payment) and customers (who listen to and discover music).

Looking at the customer side, we can dig deeper to understand how Spotify uses technology to create meaningful value. As a long-time Spotify customer and music lover, I love how the algorithm creates personalised recommendations: I discovered countless artists over the years. I also love how it creates a personal playlist of the year and inspiring story about my listening habits: It just feels right to re-discover memorable moments I had with music after each year.

Two circles of a Venn diagram are overlapping, one for customer needs and one for business objectives. In the middle, there is a loop.
Strategy builds a value loop between customer needs and business objectives

Summing up, Spotify is doing a great job serving my customer needs as a music lover. But there is more to it: It also supports their business mission. Like I described in my article on the experience economy, this use of data, technology, and music makes me stay with Spotify: Switching to another service might make me lose my listening history and, thus, lead to worse recommendations. The more I continue to use Spotify, the more valuable and meaningful it becomes for me. This makes their use of technology valuable for both business and customer. Paraphrasing Joe Natoli, my second impulse is: Strategy builds a value loop of business mission and customer needs.

Sound strategy is impossible without clear vision. […] If you want to have a good strategy, you need to first understand with piercing clarity what you are trying to achieve.
James C. Collins and Bill Lazier, BE 2.0 (Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0): Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company

Now, like the authors James C. Collins and Bill Lazier wrote, having a business mission is not enough for a sound strategy. You also need something else: a clear vision.


The idea of a vision is connected to my third impulse: Strategy is to both aspirational and inspirational.

  • "Aspirational" means that strategy is ambitious and always looking for success.
  • "Inspirational" means that strategy needs to create the urge to start moving.

Therefore, strategy needs to create a vivid description of what we want to achieve: a vision. Building on Collins and Porras (1996), a vision has two purposes. First, it needs to preserve the core, that is, everything that really defines an organisation: the essential, timeless core values that drive the behavior of people inside an organisation, and its core purpose. Second, a vision also needs to stimulate progress: By defining bold long-term goals and a vivid description of what an organisation aspires to achieve, it inspires people.

A yin-yang symbol with two sides: preserving the core and stimulating progress. On the side of the core, a speech bubble points out that this is about what really defines and organisation: essential, timeless core values and the core purpose. On the side of the progress, another speech bubble points out that this is about what an organisation aspires to achieve: bold, long-term goals and a vivid description.
A vision needs to preserve the core of an organisation, but also stimulate progress

Let us look at an example of how we could define such a vision. Winter et al. (2023) suggest using adjectives to define how technology should feel. Product teams get together during a workshop to collect adjectives that describe the intended experience of a product. Afterward, they cluster these adjectives, removing duplicates and adding category names. A final voting and discussion allows to prioritise adjective clusters. An outcome could be that the technology should feel valuable, useful, and trustworthy to humans. Based on these, the product team could formulate a vision statement: "Our products feel so valuable, useful and trustworthy to customers that they become enthusiastic. Over time, customers become fans who actively recommend our products to others."

A problem in many organisations is that they assume that having this long-term vision is enough to define the daily work of employees and make the vision become true. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. If there is a gap between the vision and daily work, it is unrealistic to expect that an organisation reaches the vision by coincidence or by hoping for the best. This is where strategy comes into play.

A vision with a strategy remains an illusion.
Lee G. Bolman & Terrence E. Deal (Reframing organisations: Artistry, Choise, and Leadership; Chapter 10)


Strategy is about defining potential paths for reaching the vision. That is, strategy builds on the vision, but it also defines the challenge in making it a reality. Therefore, my fourth impulse is that strategy focuses on the problem first.

Let me explain what I mean by this: Only by looking at the problem, we can define the challenge, which is very often not where we are looking for it. When we focus too much on our own assumptions, we risk to miss other, potentially more impactful opportunities. As a consequence (impulse 5), strategy uses research to provide unique value. Research about the needs of our customers is, therefore, not a nice-to-have gimmick: It is an essential strategic advantage.

As the outcome of such customer research, strategy can identify what is critical for the challenge at hand. This always depends on the context, and it can change along the way, just like the weather conditions could change while climbing a mountain. A good strategy needs to prepare an organisation for these critical aspects, so strategy simplifies complexity (impulse 6) by identifying what is critical and making it actionable.

Let us look at an example of this interaction between research, identified challenges, and strategic tools to reduce complexity. When personas are based on real customer research, they become valuable strategic tools: They condense vital information about customers into a vivid description of their personalities. You can convert customer needs even further into a point-of-view statement, such as "Sabine needs to upskill in Blockchain technology because she wants to push technological progress forward in her community." Thus, personas and point-of-view statements become strategic tools. Product team can use them to take decisions based on empathy: "Would the product feature that we are discussing create a valuable, useful, and trustworthy experience for Sabine? Would it allow her to fulfil her needs?"

By identifying the challenge, strategy allows us to identify how we can deal with it. To achieve this, strategy defines a set of related activities (impulse 7). These activities usually cover different areas, but they all need to be aligned. Whether it is how an organisation sets up its teams, how it defines training needs, or how it sets up our processes: Strategy creates consistency in all actions (impulse 8). Only consistency in all actions of the organisation can make sure that customers indeed have a valuable, useful, and trustworthy experience when interacting with the organisation.

Setting this up is not an easy task. It involves a lot of creativity. As Jim Kalbach put it, strategy is "a creative exercise to figure out how to win", creativity is important to discover and appropriate strategy. This is one of the reasons why design-centred organisations usually perform better than traditional organisations, as evidenced by several studies like Baars 2023, DMI, and McKinsey.

Finally, there are always risks involved, and strategy makes sure that an organisation is prepared to address them. Therefore, strategy asks "What could go wrong?" (impulse 9), and by doing this, strategy allows to adapt actions in real time, like a climber who constantly checks the grip during climbing. Therefore, strategy is based on constant data (impulse 10).

Let us look at a final example. When we have our vision in mind to create a valuable, useful, and trustworthy experience, we can define how to find out whether we reach this vision. This could look like as follows:

  • valuable: use survey-based benchmarks with customers, such as the UEQ Plus
  • useful: test key tasks of customers in a usability test
  • trustworthy: assess the reliability of a technology, as customers will likely require reliability to trust a technology

The key here is to constantly ask: How can we find out whether we achieve the intended outcome? This allows an organisation to take data-driven decisions rather than pure intuition.


By focusing on what makes technology meaningful for humans, strategy can help organisations to deliver real value for people. Building on business mission, vision, and sound strategy, an organisation can define what is at the heart of their reason to be, where they want to go, and how they could get there, constantly adapting along the way. Here are the ten impulses:

  1. Strategy aligns all areas with the business mission.
  2. Strategy builds a value loop between business and customers.
  3. Strategy is aspirational and inspirational.
  4. Strategy focuses on the problem first.
  5. Strategy requires research to provide unique value.
  6. Strategy simplifies complexity by defining what is critical.
  7. Strategy defines a set of relevant activities.
  8. Strategy creates consistency in all actions.
  9. Strategy asks "What could possibly go wrong?".
  10. Strategy is based on constant data.

If your are interested in my presentation, you can download the slides here: PDF of my presentation.