Perspective Is The Spice of Strategy

Quick: How many phone calls or conversations did you have last week that dealt purely with understanding how to think about your job, company, or market? I’m betting not many. We get into the drudgery of actually doing work, and that prevents us from considering whether we are doing the right work.

This is visible in sales organizations of all kinds when customer service (fighting fires for existing customers) crowds out new account sales activities. A certain kind of salesperson actually likes that arrangement, but that type should be in customer service, not sales.

The question is, who is thinking about it?

In 15 years of working with companies big and small, I’ve yet to meet a professional–from the shop floor to the boardroom–who goes to work thinking, “I’m going to spend my time on the wrong things today.”

It just doesn’t happen.

Misallocation of resources happens, as the economists say, at the margin. You walk in the office focused on selling that big account today, and you walk out at the end of the day wondering why you never got to it. Your day was filled with urgent distractions that removed your focus from important activities.

Maybe it was more important answer that call from that customer at that time. Maybe it was more important to talk at that time with that particular employee about that pending vacation. Maybe it was more important to answer those emails, make that pot of coffee, catch up with your old college friend, read that newspaper, etc., etc., etc.

Sound familiar yet? That’s why this article is about perspective.

If you find that you’re not focusing on what is strategic, you must bring in other perspectives. You will rarely find the solution by “trying harder” to focus. You know why? Your values are already reflected in where you spend your time. Trust me.

So what do you do?

Well, the solution too many managers come up with is to seek advice from someone who really knows their role well; they seek an expert opinion on how to focus on more strategic things. And this can be good, but it can also fall short. So I’m going to suggest a different approach: Find someone with a wildly different background from yours, and open your books to them.

If you’re a chemist, find a poet. If you’re a senior manager in a public company, find an entrepreneur. If you’re a poet, find a potter. And here’s a good one: If you’re a guy, find a woman’s perspective. You catch my drift?

Why? Well, because hard problems call for varied perspectives. When a team of organic chemists searching for a better way to synthesize a compound reaches a problem-solving roadblock, the answer is rarely to add another organic chemist: It’s to add an engineer of a different type, or even a layperson. That’s how hard problems are solved…through adding orthogonal perspectives.

These perspectives are the spice of life for hard problems, and strategic focus is a hard problem.

So, think about the problem you or your organization face and consider whether it makes sense to bring in a poet or two to help you think different.

What do you think?

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