The Chemistry of Strategy tm Newsletter December 12, 2012

Don't compromise, balance!

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Bruce, the newest member of the executive team, piped up: "Let's split the differences."

"No way!" Claire, the marketing VP, all but yelled. "Splitting the difference on that feature will destroy our ability to achieve initial customer buy-in."

As the team discussed the issue in depth, it became clear that Claire was correct. Launching the product with half the capacity would kill it.

As Yoram Hazony explained in his spirited defense of an imperfect God: "When we say that something is 'perfect,' we mean it has attained the best possible balance among the principles involved in making it the kind of thing it is. For example, if we say that a bottle is perfect, we mean it can contain a significant quantity of liquid in its body; that its neck is long enough to be grasped comfortably and firmly; that the bore is wide enough to permit a rapid flow of liquid; and so on. Of course, you can always manufacture a bottle that will hold more liquid, but only by making the body too broad (so the bottle doesn’t handle well) or the neck too short (so it’s hard to hold). There’s an inevitable trade-off among the principles, and perfection lies in the balance among them."

The best designs are ones that balance the fullest set of considerations. It's essential to establish the full set of issues before the design process starts. Otherwise, a mindset of compromise leads to such dead-end questions as:

  • Do we want growth or profit?
  • Do we want it done right or on time?
  • Do we want to wait for perfection or  deliver the inferior?

The better questions are what balance do we want to achieve:

  • between future growth and short-term profit?
  • between a product release's feature levels and the immediate market requirements?
  • between the 10- to 30-year vision of perfection and what's possible with today's technology and market realities?    

Implementing balanced actions today that are consistent with your vision is the best path to ultimately achieving that vision.

After discussion, Bruce and Claire reached agreement on the best balance. Two of the product features important for long-term success were deferred to a later release. This freed up company resources to complete the feature that was critical to making the initial sale on time and it freed up the future resources required to implement the two important features in the right way. (In this case, "right" means fully meeting the product user's future needs.)

Create a strategic plan with your team

"Management is doing things right,
leadership is doing the right things." -Peter Drucker

Designing the best strategic plan requires balancing competing considerations. The more issues that go into the plan the higher its integrity. The best way to raise, understand, and balance issues is through a facilitated strategic planning process.

How long have you been saying that you are going to develop your strategic plan, but you haven't yet done so? Why? Perhaps it remains on your to-do list because it feels like a huge, laborious process and you haven't the time to spare to do it. Peak-performing companies have a clearly defined strategic plan…and it doesn't have to take long to create an effective one.

Your executive team costs you over a million dollars a year. Are you fully utilizing them? It's a waste of time and money to create a plan that they don't own and implement.

John W. Myrna

is co-founder of
Myrna Associates Inc


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John Recommends

The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail but Some Don't
by Nate Silver

Why were television pundits' predictions mostly or completely false 50% of the time? Why were the agencies rating the risk of bundled mortgages off by 20,000%?

Silver drills down to identify the reasons the majority of predictions are so very wrong. 

Do you confuse risk with uncertainty? Do you confuse precision with accuracy? Do you put too much weight on outliers? ...

Applying the book's insights dramatically improves the quality of forecasting/predictions.


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