Struggling with your strategy? Try the Costanza Maneuver

This is the third in a series of one minute videos that address one of the many complex challenges facing marketing, media and advertising today. The Golden Minute series is an attempt to prove Albert Einstein right when he said “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple”.

But he also said “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”. So we will leave it for you to judge. Please let us know here if there is a topic you would like us to cover in a Golden Minute.


Much of the consulting work we do with marketers and their organisations involves aligning structure and process to the strategy, be it marketing structure or agency roster structure.

Of course to effectively deliver this work requires a clear articulation of the business and marketing strategy, which can be a challenge to find. Not because there is not strategy. On the contrary, there are often too many strategies. But also there is often confusion over the strategy and the objective(s).

Confusing objective and strategy

I was sharing this challenge with my friend and colleague, Shawn Callahan, Founder of business story telling company Anecdote and author of the award winning book “Putting Stories to Work”.

At the time he had just finished reading Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy Bad Strategy and had been reflecting on the nature of strategy. This is because part of the work Anecdote does is to help organisations get their strategy to stick using business storytelling.

Shawn agreed that it is easy to get objective and strategy confused, especially when the objectives are more general and not specific or measurable. Such as to be market leader, or to become more customer centric, or to be a thought leader.

Now you may say that they are all clearly objectives, but I have had all three of those offered to me as the strategies marketers were working with. But Shawn had developed a simple way to distinguish an objective from a strategy he called the Costanza Maneuver.

Life according to Seinfeld’s George Costanza

Shawn knew I was a big Seinfeld fan back in the day and we would often resource particular scenes, story-lines and catchphrases from the television series. But this time he started recounting the story-line where George, broke, bald, unemployed and living with his parents, realises that something in his life must change.

After all, if doing what he had always done was not working, perhaps it was time to do the opposite.

If you were not a fan or cannot remember, below is the scene where he first decides to do the opposite with immediate effect. We joked about how if you were in George’s situation then you would have to try something radically different. After all the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different outcome.

But I was not sure what George Costanza’s epiphany on his life had to do with determining if you had a strategy or simply an objective. This, said Shawn, is the Costanza Maneuver.

Applying the Costanza Maneuver

Shawn explained that a strategy is a solution to a problem or an opportunity. While an objective is the desired outcome. The objective can only be the objective. There is not usually a tangible opposite objective. But there could be an opposite strategy as there were always many solutions or many paths to a problem.

In other words, if you wanted to determine if something was an objective or a strategy then you could simply execute a Costanza Maneuver on it and see if the result made sense or not. If it was an objective there would not be a legitimate opposite objective. But if it is a strategy there would almost invariably be an opposite strategy.

So back to some examples Shawn provided.

  • We will provide great customer service – well was there really a choice to provide poor customer service?
  • We will delight our clients – had you really considered underwhelming them?
  • Empower our employees – not many companies succeed when dis-empowering their employees no matter how many try.

What are often presented as strategies are really the objectives we are hoping to achieve. They don’t reflect the solution or the actions that are core to the strategic solution. And most importantly what we’ve decided to do and what we have decided not to do, so therefore they don’t provide an effective strategy.

Of course the Costanza Maneuver does not mean you have to execute the opposite strategy, it just means you have now clearly identified strategy from the objective. You can read Shawn’s post on the Costanza Maneuver here on his blog.

Golden Minute Video Transcription

What is your strategy? Market leadership? Customer centric?

The fact is that often what we think are strategies are actually objectives.

But there is a way to tell the two apart.

My friend Shawn Callahan calls it the Costanza Maneuver

Remember Seinfeld’s George Costanza?

When George did the opposite he became a success.

Likewise test your strategy by thinking of the opposite.

Because strategies have infinite possibilities

But objectives only one

So what is the opposite of Market Leader? Market loser?

Or the opposite of Customer Centric? Customer careless?

Clearly they are objectives.

But the right strategy will help you achieve them.

So if in doubt about strategy and objective, do what George would do.

Or better yet do the opposite.

Read more about the importance of getting your strategy right and how we can independently review your current strategy here