The Portfolio Mind

By Matthew

· 7 min

Embracing the power of a busy mind, in many places.

The monomaniac’s dilemma

As a strategist, a pitch-runner and an agency leader, obsession has often been a secret weapon for me.

When I am immersed solving a problem, whether that’s a marketing challenge, a competitive pitch, a transformational change, I will allow a single idea to take root, and return to it constantly.

I will never stop playing with the solution. In the office, in the hills, in the middle of the night (though less of this, thankfully, than there used to be). Looking at something from every angle, all the time, questioning first principles, pushing on further and harder to find something better.

For some strategists, this is a part of your promise to your client. You can’t promise to know more, or to be smarter. But you can promise to obsessively scrutinise a problem from multiple perspectives, to interrogate it until a better solution emerges.

But over time I’ve become less and less enamoured of the monomaniac track in my own work, and more suspicious of it in others too.

Monomaniacs often miss important things in their peripheral vision. They can be inconsiderate of alternatives, and accidentally destructive of their environments. 

In some of the worlds I move through most often, from agencies to non-profits, singular commitment is put on a pedestal. On any given day, it can appear to work – if you are less distractable and less divided, you tend to move faster. But prizing exclusive attention, sheer endurance of thinking, can end up leading to uniformity, to quantity over quality. It can lead to cultures of similar people, doing similar work, in similar ways.

My portfolio of obsessions

Well, each of us has the mind we have, and my obsessive mind is the one that I’m stuck with. My solution, using the latitude I have as an independent, has been to develop a portfolio of inter-connected obsessions…

Here are the four things that are currently dominating my thinking:

1. How can a small consultancy make a big impact?

Of course, I’m a consultant now, but the truth is that most of my experiences of consulting as a client have been pretty dispiriting.

So often consulting processes are slow, generic, expensive. What’s worse, they can create dependency – you can find a good solution for the problem you are pointing at, but somehow by the end your capability at solving problems is diminished, not augmented.

I believe that it’s possible to devise processes that are faster and better, if you open things up and fully consider the human dimension. I believe that the workplace revolution makes it easier to assemble and alchemise different expert perspectives than ever. I believe that a well-placed statement of an honest truth is sometimes all you need.

No amount of rethinking will turn the small but mighty Hook Strategy into McKinsey. But it does mean that with ingenuity and commitment you can deliver something that creates a lot of the value, much more easily – and leave people with a greater sense of agency at the end. 

If you’ve got complex problems that you need help with, my obsession with making this happen is at your disposal…

2. How can true purpose gain an edge?

This time last year, every marketer, every agency, every commentator seemed deeply vested in the concept that the root of your strategy for engaging people should be an understanding of your underlying purpose, manifested in action.

Well, someone, somewhere seems to have turned the Purpose tap off, because suddenly this powerful, disruptive, long-term thought has almost disappeared from the dialogue. How could it be such a flash in the pan?

The truth is that purpose can’t be powerful unless it is for real. To connect, it needs to have a fierce and authentic internal logic, a clarity of intent, and an uncompromising commitment to excellence in communications execution.

This gives organisations with true purpose – charities, industry bodies, issue-based groups, a massive potential advantage. But so often, they under-represent themselves, because they lack clear logic, and they lack cutting edge. If you think this may be you, I’d love to help.

3. Can AI take the better, less-travelled path?

I’ve seen a lot of revolutionary communications technology come in and change the world, but I’ve always been instinctively sceptical about new media and tech trends. I’ve definitely got a few wrong, such as my confident prediction that the iPad launch would fail horribly (425 million units, so far, but they are dropping off, so…) But generally, my nose has been reasonably good.

The rise of AI in its new guise as a generative process, driven by LLMs, is emphatically in the world-changing, world-shaking camp. I don’t see any way that this isn’t going to profoundly change work, culture, and business, in both some ways that are quite foreseeable, and some ways that I couldn’t possibly imagine right now.

Is that going to be a good thing? As ever, this question is probably totally inadequate as a summary of ways that our tools change our world, and ourselves. But there is so much potential here to start fixing things in the world that don’t work properly in ways that we can’t afford. We have to try and make it a good thing, in a way that we’ve squandered with the last few big chances we’ve been given.

Anyway, this obsession on its own would be the subject of a hundred blog pieces, but I’m very fortunate to be taking on a fascinating and benign subset of the countless opportunities AI creates with the wonderful people at And I’m hopeful that some great things can happen.

4. How can Learning and Development make a bigger impact?

People have never been more heads-down. It’s a confusing, anxious, busy world. And yet it’s never been clearer that to succeed, people need to look up, and find a better way to solve their problems, and a different way to work.

This tends to be the domain of coaches, of business books, of inspirational speakers. And there are plenty of wonderful examples of each of these in the world. But somehow, there seems to be a disconnect between inspiration, and the way that people actually work. In fact, it sometimes feels like the gap between people’s workplace aspirations and our reality are higher than ever. And that can’t be good.

I’m increasingly focused on this thought. In fact, in terms of pure obsession volume, it’s probably number 1, and (spoiler alert) I’m going to very shortly be launching a new venture in this area. Of which more another day…

Crossing the streams

I’m very fortunate to have found a life with the latitude to pursue, play with and intermingle these obsessions. It’s certainly a far distance travelled from a time where my work demanded that I return to the same problem day after day, year after year.

And what I am discovering more and more is that these obsessions are intermingling in surprising and useful ways. Each line of thinking supports the others, and the ability to keep switching streams refreshes my mind and keeps me fresh.

Which leads me to a final conclusion, which is to try an encourage some of regular readers, who have an impact on the lives of others, to encourage their teams to develop portfolio minds.

It’s tempting to encourage monomania. It looks like efficiency, and like focus. But a busy mind in many places is capable of extraordinary things.

Hook Strategy helps organisations to move forwards with shared strategic clarity. If you are an organisation seeking unified thinking, get in touch at or by calling +44 (0)7780 481717.

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