The strategy paradox is that a sound strategy is necessary and it can lead to both success and to failure.*
One example is Kodak (founded 1888) having a ton of success over generations and then not embracing its own digital photography invention back in 1975. (Interestingly, more recently they began producing pharmaceutical ingredients which has helped their value.)
Another example is Polaroid (founded 1937) which peaked in the 1970s but then diminished and was finally replaced by digital platforms Pinterest and Instagram. The same great idea can be an explosion to success and an explosion to failure.
While looking at historical examples of other companies’ successes and failures is easy, how do you confront the strategy paradox now?
Here are some thoughts:
Separate. Divide your planning and resources between brainstorming innovations and building solutions. One group is discovering and weighing ideas and the other is wrestling with how to implement them.
If those approaches are combined, then newly formed ideas may be quickly undermined by logistical challenges before they can even fully develop. Don’t kill an idea before it’s fully formed!
Experiment. Seek compromise between the imagination of strategy and practicality of execution by testing an idea before a potential full rollout. Proving and idea’s value and finding devotees will build the case for raising and allocating the resources to expand.
If the idea doesn’t work, you can revisit the plan, the implementation, and the market, and may decide to adjust or to abandon the project.
Seek Input. Solicit broad input internally (through brainstorming and working sessions) and externally (from investors, advisors, clients, partners, vendors, and research groups).
Discuss ideas early and openly to anticipate problems and address concerns before they magnify.
Face Uncertainty. Force the question, “Why would this not work?” This thought exercise encourages ways to identify, prevent, and mitigate bad results.
If the initial response yields no answers, challenge everyone to bring at least one answer to a follow-up meeting, since no idea is perfect and all ideas can be improved.
List Options. Compile a list of all ideas, people, and companies which either closely match or largely contrast your strategy. When weighing future decisions, view how they handled similar circumstances.
You may designate someone to put themselves in the position of that other company or competitor to comprehend their potential thought process and play out how that position could play out for them.
Avoid Biases. The cognitive bias of sunk cost is when you decide to continue on an idea because you have already put a lot of time and/or money into it, regardless of the outcome and satisfaction you are achieving. While it’s disheartening to change course, that should not be the reason to avoid action.
The confirmation bias, for instance, describes when we’re inclined to find information and data which supports our own ideas and we’re less willing to accept others’ ideas and challenges. Ensure discussions weigh all options and opinions. (Learn more about these and other cognitive biases in the Leadership chapter.)
Feedback. Create channels to get customer and team input constantly. While new ideas may encounter resistance, you want to see that complaints and concerns are quickly turned into engagement and higher customer satisfaction. Also, don’t wait until the finished product to start heading feedback – create designs, mockups, prototypes, and MVPs and force opinions throughout the process.
If the feedback remains negative, then you need to decide if and how to change course.
Strategy is essential. Face the strategy paradox directly by recognizing every choice has pros and cons. You need to live with some uncertainty as you evaluate and weigh various options in order to prosper.
*This post was inspired by the appearance of Michael Raynor on The Art of Manliness podcast with Brett McKay.
The photo comes from Samantha Hurley who can be found here: https://wherethelightleaksin.com/