The Path of Peril makes for stronger strategy


Pixar, Elves, Peril and a big Principle

Strategy is not easy. As we’ve said before and we’ll say again, if you’re finding brand strategy design easy, you’re probably not doing it right.

Do you choose the path of peril when it comes to strategy?

If you’ve seen Onward you’ll know what we’re on about.

If not, here’s a very quick summary.

Ian Lightfoot is an elf.

So is his brother Barley.

They find themselves on a quest to get to a mountain so they bring back their father for just one day. Ian has never met his father, who died before he was born. The clock is ticking. Mindful of time, Ian wants to take the clear, easy road to the mountain. His brother, a quest fanatic, is having none of it. Barley decides they should take the Path of Peril, which is…well you can imagine.


“I think we should take the path of peril. On a quest, the clear path is never the right one.”

Barley Lightfoot


Barley’s talking about a grand tradition in questing, where the journey must be full of danger and risk. You know the stories. In fact, Barley’s speaking to a deeper structure of narrative here.

A story only becomes a story with an enemy, obstacle, challenge, threat, foe, beast, monster, call it what you will. There has to be something for the protagonist to overcome. There has to be a Path of Peril for the story to have any meaning at all.

So far so good. But what’s this got to do with strategy?

Consider this observation from strategy expert Richard Rumelt:


“Bad strategy fails to recognise or define the challenge. When you cannot define the challenge, you cannot evaluate a strategy or improve on it…Bad strategy is the active avoidance of the hard work of creating a good strategy.”

Richard Rumelt


Spot anything?

He’s really saying the same thing as Barley Lightfoot (to be clear, Rumelt actually got there long before Barley hit our screens).

When developing your strategy you have to choose the Path of Peril.

Sure, it’s tough. There are some scary ideas and maybe even some monstrous challenges lurking in the shadows. It will take you longer and work you harder than hitting the easy open road to the mountain. You might not even get to the mountain you were aiming for.

That is life. That is business. That is branding.

Things aren’t obvious. They’re not plain sailing. You can’t predict or control everything. You don’t know what’s going to happen.

So any approach that hides from the Path of Peril is, ironically (don’t you think), more perilous in the long term.


There’s a view that focusing on the challenges in front of you is negative and demotivating. That we need to be positive and can-do about everything. Sure, no-one wants to sit by the side of the road quivering with fear and unwilling to take on the Path of Peril.

There is an alternative. You can see challenges as energising forces. You can see obstacles as opportunities to mark progress, build strength and learn skills by overcoming them.

Develop a strategy by being open, willing and strong enough to consider the perils that will / may lie ahead of you – it’s the only way to create a plan for the future you want that has the best chance of getting you there.

During a flight airplane pilots are constantly scanning the landscape to work out where they would aim for if the plane got into trouble. Not because they’re pessimistic, defeatist or downright party-poopers. They do it because being aware of the risks, uncertainties and challenges you may face on your quest is the best way to plan and prepare for successful outcomes no matter what may shift.

Be clear about your challenges. Don’t hide from the truth.

It’s about marrying ambition and vision with realities. About working out what it’s really going to take to achieve a goal. It can be the difference between something that sounds lovely on paper to something that becomes a reality.


Be more Barley. Choose the Path of Peril when it comes to designing your strategy. Don’t always be seduced by the quick and easy road.

It’s harder work than writing a bunch of cool sounding statements on a piece of paper in a meeting where everyone’s guzzling the Kool Aid.

It may make you challenge some of your assumptions about your business, your product, your service. It may force you to see yourself in a different light.

The Path of Peril makes you ask yourself the really tough questions.

That’s a good thing. Remember, quest is the start of questions.