In conversation: Discussing Path’s playbook with founder Jaimes Nel

Path's new editor Shai Rama spent some time with founder Jaimes Nel to find out how experiments and Fast Feedback can inform more successful strategy.

In conversation: Discussing Path’s playbook with founder Jaimes Nel

Jaimes Nel founded Path in 2021 to help organisations play the long game through design-led strategy — but, what does that mean in practice?

Path's new editor Shai Rama spent some time with Jaimes to dive into Path’s playbook and find out how experiments and Fast Feedback can inform more successful strategy.

Shai: Let’s start by just getting an idea of today’s topic. Could you provide some background on what Path does?

Jaimes: Path is a strategy consultancy with design as a foundational toolkit. Strategy can be pretty broad. It could mean developing new products or services, whether digital or offline. It might involve helping an organisation deeply change the way they work. Often it means exploring a mix of those things to shape a different set of possibilities for the future. Design is a fantastic way to experiment creatively and figure out what's actually going to work. 

S: What framework do you use to conduct these experiments?

J:  That depends on the challenge. There are three types of things we help clients do: The first is to get the big picture, spending time in their world, understanding their clients and competitors, their teams, their systems and mapping that out into something that's a coherent view of the big picture. Teams can’t always look at everything holistically, they're focused on a piece of the puzzle. Helping them map out the bigger picture clarifies things. 

S: How does this play out in a practical sense?

J: It’s usually a discovery exercise. For instance, going through documentation on their processes and speaking to people in different parts of the business to get an understanding of what the organisation does. It might also mean speaking to their customers or other organisations in their space to understand the context they're operating in.

S: I see. So that’s the first piece of the puzzle – what’s the second?

J: The next piece is to understand their ability to act across horizons. Often, there’s simply too much to consider, and teams who know the direction they want to take struggle to decide on a specific first step. Clear horizons reduce the variables, make constraints explicit and help teams act against different objectives with appropriate criteria.

It’s perhaps ironic that more structure allows you to think more creatively, but it’s true.  By acknowledging and protecting short-term horizons from ambiguity, you can free future horizons from overly constrained thinking. Framing strategy against horizons is what allows it to be both ambitious over the long-term and credible in the short-term. This is what we mean by playing the long game.

S: And the third step is actually putting the previous two steps into action, right?

J: Precisely — focusing on what you can do right now that will lead you in the right direction.  That's where experiments come in. Having this ‘big picture map’ allows you to be more focused and also allows for trial and error, probing to discover what works by acting with intention and learning from your actions. Instead of attempting to create an entirely new product, you might ask, “How do we create some value that will allow us to start a conversation with the customers we want a relationship with?” 

So, that’s a rough sketch of our playbook: Understand the big picture, address it in horizons, and use focused experiments or probes to act on specific parts of the challenge and learn from that activity.

S: Building on that, how do you find the balance between experimenting and the risks associated with deviating from established ways of doing strategy?

J: That’s a great question. Firstly, the traditional approach to corporate strategy is often an annual planning cycle, so it can be more about planning than strategy. Strategic thinking has an earlier military history, addressing highly dynamic environments, so I’d argue that a focus on adaptability and change is actually a more traditional way of looking at strategy.

Strategy without feedback can’t adapt, that's just planning which is itself risky in a dynamic environment – you might have the wrong plan and never know until it’s too late. So, experiments are a way of getting feedback from the action you take, because what you're doing is probing, learning more, and then using that feedback to adapt your strategy and plan your next move. Instead of thinking of experiments as science, with structured hypotheses, tests and results, we think of them as probing actions, dynamically influencing a situation, being open to learning, and adapting your actions.

S: So, experiments can guide the way forward through continuous learning. How does Path's new Fast Feedback service fit into everything? What makes it a unique aspect of the playbook?

J: Fast Feedback is a service we’ve developed to give clients a way to get rapid feedback on something they’re considering. We’ve stripped down the process of going out and doing interviews with customers so that we can very quickly get just enough feedback to help make a rapid decision or push a project forward.

The idea is that rather than conducting a large research project, you break it into components so you can act get feedback quickly enough to make a difference. It's similar to the idea of Continuous Discovery, except designed to act quickly as often as needed rather than running research continuously.

Fast Feedback is designed to get feedback on up to four tangible ideas. Those ideas could be a question or an image representing a new product idea, for instance. We then quickly speak to four consumers or professionals and we come back with learnings in four days. These constraints allow us to work very quickly, and provide great contextual learning that can drive informed decision making.

S: Let’s use a practical, real-life example to see how that would work in practice. Say you're an insurance company and have 5 or 6 concepts you want feedback on — what would the next steps be?

J: Rapid feedback helps you make quick decisions and focus your next actions. In this case, we would help you focus on a particular audience and have conversations with people matching those criteria very quickly, literally as soon as you've booked it, we'll do interviews in the next day or two.

You'll then get back a structured report sharing what people said in their own words, with a layer of commentary from us. For example, your team may have generated some ideas, like for example: creating videos that explain how insurance works; providing a ‘quick quote service’ to get a price really easily and quickly, or another about having an auto-renewal so that every year you don't have to waste time getting new quotes.

You give us those ideas and within four days, you get back feedback that might say, people have a lot of concerns about auto-renewing, so perhaps there needs to be a simple confirmation. For the explainer videos, you learn that people just want insurance that works, so you take that one off the table and save your team from spending any more time thinking about it. You learn that people want to feel they’ve got the best price each time they renew, so your team focus on progressing the quick quote idea.

You’ve gone from a large set of possibilities to a small set of active projects very rapidly. Of course, this needs to be backed up by acting quickly and experimenting again to get it right. Fast Feedback is designed to make it easy to quickly reach out to a team of experts and learn more.

This approach won’t work in every situation, however, we've found that even large projects can use this approach by simply breaking bigger problems down and tackling them piece by piece.

Fast Feedback is just one part of our playbook that is designed to help you understand and shape your long game, and make it easier to actively work towards it through learning and creative experimentation.

How do you play the long game?

We've found 4 common modes of strategic change, each with their strengths and weaknesses.

Our simple tool helps you discover your default mode, and how to pick the mode you need right now.

Long Game Modes
The 4 Modes of Strategic Change

+61 (0) 422 634 520

hello [at]

81-83 Campbell St, Surry Hills, NSW 2010

ABN 64 653 180 824

Acknowledgment of Country

We acknowledge the Gamaragal and Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional owners of the land on which we live and work, and pay our respects to the Elders both past, present and emerging.

Acknowledgment of Crisis

We acknowledge the context of crisis in our time. Recognising that our actions today have consequences beyond our species and generation, we acknowledge our responsibility to include these considerations in our lives and work.