Strategy has to be a synthesis of old and new.
I spent the weekend with my daughter walking around New York City. The city is a great one. It is, at its best, a fantastic combination of culture, ethnicity, language, foods, and styles. While walking the Lower East Side, a thought come to mind, and I’ll do my best to develop it in 500 words or less.
U.S. political leaders like to romanticize the United States of America as a “nation of immigrants.” We have heard this platitude so many times over the past several decades (JFK first published his book by the same name in 1958) that it has attained a sort of knee-jerk validity in everyday discourse. Our guide on a short walking tour loved to allude to this notion.
But, the notion is actually very wrong. And we are worse off for using it. I’ll try to articulate my simple version of the truth, and what it means for any American business leader.
Here it goes:
We are, at our worst, a nation of conquerors.
We are, at our best, a nation of builders…a nation of synthesizers.
Our country is built on conquest. You may not like that notion but it doesn’t make it less true. Our most pervasive mindsets are built on conquest. Our most polar political ideals are based on “mine” and “not yours.” Almost since the founding of the country, we have reveled in ideals of “winning” meant only as “doing it our way.”
But, what makes us great is synthesis. When it comes to what really made our country great, it’s building from introduced parts. It’s assimilation in the best sense of the word. It’s not merely coexistence or “tolerance” (a fantastically risky word), but symbiosis. It’s immigrant Jews on the Lower East Side patronizing immigrant Chinese restaurants during the high holidays…if you will.
To be a little more tongue in cheek, it’s Mexican Pizza.
So, we have to build with full recognition that we have the conqueror’s ethos that permeates our country.
What’s the message here for a blog on business strategy?
It’s this: In your business today, you have a way of doing things. You have systems, processes, approaches, value propositions, cultural elements, and memes (in the traditional sense of the word) that drive your business. Your strategy can be to either “conquer” or to “build.” You can either take “who you are” and “what you do” and apply it to all situations old and new; or you can search for piece parts to assimilate and synthesize into a higher order of success.
This might mean forgetting some of what you knew.
It might mean inviting in new perspectives (and actually listening to them).
It might even mean looking at competitors you’d previously want to conquer as potential collaborators.
If you do strategy like an immigrant, you do strategy as synthesis. You make better out of a few pieces of really good.
Now, I’m going to go have a bagel with ham and cheese.