Using geometry to build better digital strategies

For nearly three decades, consultant Dr. Robert W. Keidel has been asking his Fortune 500 clients somewhat of an odd question: “Is your team playing baseball, football, or basketball?”

Dr. Keidel’s research revolves around strategies for organizations and how employees work together. These patterns are aligned to geometry—parabolas, coordinate planes, and triangles—to visually communicate with a great deal of efficacy. In the sports team question, he reveals a triangle that balances autonomy (baseball), control (football), and cooperation (basketball). Complex organizations will have different “games” being played on different teams and at different levels of the hierarchy, but understanding which is which can frame challenges and opportunities in a new way. 

Since our clients are almost exclusively pursuing digital strategy and digital impact in nonprofit organizations, they can benefit from using these patterns in their organization, whether it’s a foundation, a university, or a small direct service provider. 

How can these patterns help your team become better strategists? 

  • You can create very powerful visuals that communicate effectively
  • Aid colleagues in thinking more strategically about projects
  • Help unearth other patterns in your work more organically every day

The geometries of strategy

There are several different patterns Dr. Keidel uses to describe teams and strategies. We’ll focus on three in this post to get you started. 

Curvilinear thinking (parabola)

Take the example of your organization’s development or fundraising team. When coming up with a strategy for contributions they must make a determination on how often they will communicate with a given prospective donor via digital channels. Too little outreach and they won’t know anything about your organization. Too much outreach and they’ll unsubscribe, unfollow, and cancel their monthly gift. Finding the sweet spot is key.

A graph showing donor success on the y-axis and frequency of outreach on the x-axis with a parabola graphed on it

Angular thinking (the 2x2 grid)

Dr. Keidel likes to joke that when two strategy consultants meet, the first question is always “What’s your matrix?” The 2x2 matrix is extremely prevalent in strategic thinking as a way to present two variables that must be balanced (or maximized) to achieve a goal.

For example, let’s say your executive director wants to redesign your annual report template this year. They meet with the design team and push them to be as creative as possible with the format to capture the attention of donors and supporters. After the meeting, the marketing team discusses their concern about users understanding the content of the report if there are too many bells and whistles. Their mandate shifts to maximize both form and function, not trading off one for the other.

A two by two matrix comparing relative levels, from low to high, of creative design and ease of understanding. The potential outcomes are Not Viable for Release in the lower left, Positive Public Perception in the upper left, High Level of Understanding in the lower right, and the best outcome is the top left - Highest Impact on Readers.

Triangular thinking (autonomy, control, and cooperation)

There are dozens if not hundreds of examples of this pattern across nearly every discipline, from nonprofit strategy to architecture to psychology and finance. 





Sports teams




Team characteristics




Performance measure




Ways to add value



Customer service


A classic example that applies to any team or organization is the balance of Talent (autonomy), Process (control), and Culture (cooperation). Talent refers to capabilities:  Do you have the right resources to build a digital strategy? Process refers to the “how” of what you do: Do you have a consistent set of steps to follow to achieve your goals? Culture refers to the connections among your team and between teams:  Can you effectively collaborate or are you simply passing tasks back and forth.

A triangle with vertices labeled talent, process, and culture. A three circle Venn diagram is within the boundaries of the shape with various points marked based on their relative viabilities as strategies.

The red Xs are important to note here.  By ending up in the center, you don’t have a true priority for your strategy. By ending up in the corners, you are “under-doing” your bottom priority. As long as you’re in a green circle, you’re in the clear!

You can place your organization in one of these positions based on your perspective. Doing so opens up a host of questions:

  • How might we add the skills or resources we need to implement our digital strategy?
  • What processes can be developed or updated to improve our work product?
  • Who should be part of planning or developing a given program or service? (Hint: You should always be talking to your audience)

Why does this matter?

It’s a fair question! These concepts are abstract and meta (thinking about thinking), but when honed and applied can be very powerful. Picking up these patterns and describing them to your colleagues and collaborators can add value to your conversations—whether you are developing a digital strategy or a strategic plan for your nonprofit. 

Next time you find yourself unsure of how to make a decision, consider whether or not you’re looking for a sweet spot (parabola), an “and” versus an “or” (2x2), or balancing three variables (triangular). If nothing else, you’ll spend less time going in circles!