We just returned from a long weekend staying in a tent cabin in the middle of a farm located in rural northern Illinois. This experience was certainly a far cry from our normal morning routine of popping a pre-packaged pod of coffee grounds into our near-magical espresso machine and sipping a perfect espresso 30 seconds later. However, this experience reminded me of how getting back to the basics and removing some of the conveniences that we have become accustomed to can remind us about important fundamentals of strategy.
Whether the objective is as basic as making a steaming hot cup of coffee from scratch over a wood-fired grill or as complex as repositioning your company in a dynamically changing market landscape, the fundamentals of the game are the same: understand the game, define winning the game, recognize what could change the game, decide how to play and commit to a game plan.
Start with establishing a clear and objective understanding of the layout of "the game", including the resources and capabilities available to you (and others).
On the farm, this was as basic as recognizing the state of the resources at our disposal (matches, kindling, dry wood, stove, kettle, water, coffee beans, grinder, French press, etc.), and acknowledging our capabilities (armature fire builders, yet experienced at grinding coffee and using a French press).
In a changing market landscape, establishing an understanding of the layout of the game is certainly more involved, but key and necessary nonetheless. In addition, there are more resources to recognize and capabilities to acknowledge.
Establish specific and realistic objectives to strive towards "winning the game".
On the farm, the objective was clear: generate a hot cup of coffee in 30 minutes or less, before a caffeine-deficiency turned a bright sunny morning into a prairie storm!
In a changing market landscape, the objectives are not usually as obvious and therefore, often take a lot more effort to flush out and determine. Despite this complexity, specific outcome objectives need to be established and clearly stated. It can become tempting to move forward with more general objectives with intentions to make them more specific as the future becomes more clear, however, that would be analogous to saying that we are, "just hoping to generate a cup of something to drink at some point today."
Recognize and develop a clear point of view on how key variables in the environment may change the game.
On the farm, the key uncertain variables were limited, yet still important to understand, including: the high probability of amateurs having difficulties getting an unfamiliar wood-fired grill going, mechanics of the antique coffee grinder, and other distractions that could prolong execution ? like having to chase after our 5-year-old son as he gets dragged like a fallen water skier who did not want to let go of the rope by a galloping goat who he decided to put on a leash and walk!
In a changing market landscape, a healthy recognition of and clear point of view on key uncertain variables is a pre-requisite to a robust strategy. In either situation, shortcutting this step produces a strategy and plan that may only be designed for and possible under perfect (or "assumed") conditions.
Evaluate the alternative game plans available on "how to play".
Despite the relatively basic situation on the farm, there were numerous alternative game plans possible for achieving our objective. These ranged from just one of us focusing on producing the coffee while the other supervised the kids, to just taking the easy way out and jumping in the car and driving 15 miles to the nearest caffeine palace.
In the more complex market landscape situation, the possibilities are often viewed as "endless." As a result, it is tempting to get anchored on the first decent sounding proposal on how to play. This is especially true when there is a short perceived timeline and pressure to start taking action. However, done right, evaluating alternative game plans often yield unanticipated insights, opportunities and threats.
Develop and commit to a coherent game plan that you believe best aligns with your objectives, understanding of and point of view on how the landscape may change.
After evaluating our amateur fire building skills, the durability of our 5-year-old son, and our ideal vantage point for watching goat skiing out of the corner of our eyes the whole time, we determined that we had enough confidence to proceed with the "build" approach to playing the coffee game. We then quickly discussed and committed to a game plan:
* I would build the fire (leaning on my slightly more advanced fire-building capabilities) while my wife pumped water into the tea kettle, ground the coffee beans and got them all set in the French press.
* Next, we would both assess the quality of the fire before putting the kettle of water on the fire, then sit and enjoy each other's company while waiting for the water to boil.
* Once the water boiled, we agreed that my wife would operate the French press (leaning on her more extensive experience with using them) and I would fetch the goats milk and coffee mugs.
* Finally, we would then both work together to assemble our masterpiece.
* We also agreed that my wife would be the primary goat skiing overseer, that I would also help monitor the situation and be ready to be a first responder if something got out of hand, leaning on my (err?.) more extensive goat-handling capabilities.
Committing to and developing a coherent game plan are just as critical in a changing market landscape. What usually makes this even more complex are the number of people who could provide input into the plan and the number of people necessary to effectuate the plan. Thereby making the simplicity, clarity and coherence of the game plan all that more essential. The more complex, unclear and unpredictable a game plan, the more difficult it will be for others in the organization to understand and optimally mobilize around it.
Fortunately, our plans were successful. We successfully started the fire with kindling and logs, pumped water into the tea kettle, heated it over the wood-fired grill, ground our coffee beans by hand, combined the grounds and the heated water in a French press, waited another five minutes, then finally pressed the grounds down and poured our cups of coffee for the morning ... Oh yea, and rescued our son getting dragged by a goat. We then topped our coffees off with a touch of milk from the goat. It is safe to say, that was one of the best and most gratifying coffees I have ever had.
August 21, 2012
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