• John Chambers, PhD

Frozen

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

How many paralysis by analysis essays do we need before we pay heed? Whether a strategy development or choice in solution, we find the dangerous complacency of a glacial world. Meanwhile bold competitors act as ice breakers, opening new doors. Yet those doors will be closed to us. They are occupied by their creators, the first comers.

I recall a marketing professor talking about cultural approaches in the product arena, western “cowboy” vs. “old world.”

“Get into the market," he announced. "Take your foot hold. Don’t hesitate!”

He characterized it in his usually animated way, mimicking a school teacher, arms swinging, and cajoling students to move through the hallways to the next class. “Let’s go. Move, move….” Then changing voices he mimicked a whining cry, “But what if the product isn’t ready for prime time, professor?”

Immediately returning to a football coach tonality he barked, “Then we’ll fix it once we’re over there! Now move! Move and be that first mover!”

Is the contrasted “old world” method slow-footed and noncompetitive? Hardly. Planning and thoroughness will be valued through eternity. And ought to be. There is always a balance to be considered. That intellectual, planning process must be corralled and constrained, not allowed to churn into eternity.

Consider the caveat. Markets, sustained ones, are revolted by garbage offerings. There is an expectation that quality is under the product’s skin. So how much is enough? The leadership must be patient. But not too patient. Change is nevertheless required, and is forged by courage.

Even in an environment that is so-called “fast paced”, a cliché among the recruitment pages of sourcing companies who hunt heads that promise energy, there is still reticence in change. Those frenetic souls who lived by the “fast paced” rule were resources that bounced like pin balls on the game table. In their haste, ironically, they too feared change. All they falsely assimilated was that energy equates to high performance. Fast paced is not necessarily high performance, which is amalgam of focus, deliberation and action. Many fast paced players forget that a new way of playing the game may be effective.

So a pause from the freneticism is expected, and demanded. Even among those who are fast paced, there is fear of breaking speed and modifying the pursuit, as though we will resurrect a monster that will unleash chaos and agonized uncertainty.

It is a question of balance. The balance lives through a recipe of science and business art. Be deliberate but then act.

Consider the agile methodology for software creation. Teams develop through trial and error. Their creations are part prototypes and part living code, assessed with urgency, on display for moments before they’re either morphed into the production environment or terminated. We often hesitate to fully apply the same mindset to strategy development and tactical plans. Strategic deliberation often consumes inordinate time whilst its tangible output is as distant as Victor Frankenstein’s “utmost boundary of the horizon,” beautiful, icy, still.

But in business, stillness is dangerous.

Decision-making even for strategic acquisitions, enterprise wide initiatives, and transformations must launch immediately, following a constrained and reasonably controlled time-frame. Stillness is anathema to necessary leaps forward and potential new niches. Expanding the customer portfolio was never the product of Job’s biblical patience; it was a concentrated effort toward motion and dynamism. Thoughtfulness and analysis can still be expeditious. And expeditiousness is not recklessness.

The balance we seek can be found in nearly meditative aspects of analysis. This is hard work. It demands homework. But the analysis must be fulfilled through the discipline of a timepiece. Place the analysis in context. Be thorough. Let the thoroughness be taxing but not timeless. Once vetted and shared, demand decisive and measurable action. The best partners in your firm are those whose rigor in current state assessments are matched by racehorse movement in implementation.

I’ve seen strategies written on the back of envelopes, which were no more valuable than the paper on which they were etched, unsurprising garbage with all intuition and no intelligence.

And I’ve seen the converse -- the strategic undertakings that toiled on for months or even years, like Byrd’s expeditions on the Antarctic expanse. These efforts became obsolete before they were even launched, as competitors grabbed the niche first.

An executive I admired, once heard several options for deploying a new solution and outreach program. The options were all compelling, with an impressive amount of backup and analytical thought. When confronted with a suggestion that more study was entertained he replied, “Or we can just decide.”

Flippant?

Arrogant?

No; appropriately anxious. The time had come. Move.

Be strategic. Take the time. But then decide.

To emphasize, decision-making is not a crap shoot because we feel lucky. It is an urgency that finds comfort in a profound analytical process that is allowed to ferment, but then quickly triggers movement.

If we are locked, immobilized like travelers in a blizzard, we in business don’t have time to await spring time’s thaw. We are expected to break the frigid tundra, so our ship can move toward the firm’s vision. Obstacles like an intimidating terrain will give us pause. Change is worrisome. But carve and smash those obstacles; guarantee motion.

As we continue in our journeys, continue to assess the strategy, like those agile computer scientists delivering instruction sets on top of kernels, who step away for a moment and witness the result of their trials. They are making adjustments along the way.

As strategists, we mistakenly expect our intensive plans to last; we heighten risk if we avert our eyes from the landscape.

In our accelerated world there are lurking beasts, competitive trends that portend vigilant adjustment. Stay true to a thoughtful strategy, but don’t fear modification.

Fear slowness in choice, not opportunity for change.

Your challenge is to demonstrate the depth and insight of a sage with the acceleration of a cheetah.

So demand that thorough, scientific analysis.

Then move immediately and vigorously.

And then fix if necessary.

If you don’t get there quickly, someone else shall already be squatting on your fantasy real estate, engaging prospects who will directly help them improve their offerings, building ships of change, unafraid of new waters and imagined monsters.

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