In the new year, try better!

What if we make 2024 the year of “better” instead of “best?”

Geoff Wilson

We are about to ring in the new year…again.

Everything is new.  It’s alive, glistening in its rebirth, and reimagined in its potential for perfection in 2024.

Right?     Right?       ???

Of course not.  If you are among the “executive class,”  you probably have just limped softly into a holiday season with more priorities than passion.  You’ve just spent the Christmas holiday at home or away in joy but with a low simmer of next year-itis starting to build.

If that is not an issue for you, then this is not the new year’s blog post for you.

This is the new year’s blog post for the grinders out there.  It’s for the people who look back on the year with confidence in accomplishment, sure, but also with knowledge of what didn’t get done.  And, it’s for the people who are nursing that minor stomach bubble of what needs to get done as the new year kicks off.

It’s for the entrepreneur who just spent the past two weeks trying to get back to working “on” the business vs. working “in” the business.  It’s for the finance executive who has been tying up loose ends for a calendar year fiscal close.  It’s for the operations executive who is in the throes of the holiday season where it seems like execution grinds to a halt for a portion of the team.

And, it’s for the professional who has been brought up on the fool’s gold of “optimizing.”  That’s the basic unit of unobtanium in complex systems that so many of us are chasing.

Yeah, this one’s for you.  Here it goes:

I grew up on “optimizing” and have slowly changed my tune and the tune of our professional work to softer tones of achieving “better” and “helping.”  Why?

Because optimizing is an ulcer.

Better is a celebration.

I’d rather celebrate.

Optimizing is a McKinsey-polished graph on a piece of paper that shows what’s “possible” (your mileage may vary, we accept no responsibility for your decisions based on our advice–all ulcers belong to you). It’s the financial model that nobody understands or even inspects. It’s the supermodel ideal.  It’s the private jet.

Better is a policy changed, a machine moved, a key hire made, a customer won, or a product launched that will all bring real-world results. It’s pencil and paper…working out the decision we will make today. It’s a spouse you love.  It’s a manual transmission in an old truck that still hauls your stuff.

In other words, better is the ability to take on a complex, often broken system (world, even) led and executed by complex, often broken people…and to eek out a few more happy customers.

It’s the avoidance of analysis paralysis.

It’s giving it a go.

It’s having at it.

It’s moving forward…even when you know you are limping.

Most importantly: It’s something to believe in.

And, so, I offer you this simple phrase:  In 2024, focus on better.

Happy New Year!

Geoff Wilson still looks to optimize way too much in life.  How about you?

Your bag, your gig, and theirs too!

Want to be a great leader? Align what you like to do with what you have to do, and then find people who will follow the formula.

Geoff Wilson

Recently, I was part of a conversation about the abject drain it would be for me and other people around the table to perform the duties of the typical politician these days.

Be at the center of attention and stand, smile, shake hands, smile, stand, say something about the baby, stand, smile, shake hands, ask for the vote.  Rinse, repeat.

This is the stuff horror stories are made of for me. I would be terrible at it and would be terrible supporting it.

And that’s where the story turned.  I happen to be in the thick of Robert Caro’s biographical book series on Lyndon B. Johnson. In the midst of what I would characterize as a highly unflattering analysis of one of our country’s more enduring political figures, a thing stands out:  LBJ absolutely thrived on the gritty aspects of politics.  It gave him energy to see people, to give the same speech over and over and over in an era where taping wasn’t possible (talking about his early days), and to connive and scheme about how to buy votes and steal elections.

I’m not kidding or even exaggerating.  The guy was a machine.  And, it worked.  Further than that, he surrounded himself with acolytes who understood his drive and energy, and were just as committed.

LBJ without his team was just a disliked, lying blowhard who was literally nicknamed Bull (short for Bull****) in college.  LBJ with his team was a formidable presence in American politics for nearly five decades.

He did it by thriving on the dirty stuff that other people didn’t, and by building a team that did the same.

Yes, some people just absolutely thrive on what others of us view as drudgery, skullduggery, or even pain. And the ones who are great–even at dirty pursuits like politics–build teams with the same alignment.  And that’s maybe the gist of this post.

I’ve written before on how most people want to be great at something, but they are limited by lack of enjoyment for what it takes to be great. Want to be great at playing the guitar?  Best start to enjoy sore hands and bleeding fingers.  That post, Everybody wants to be a rockstar, got a lot of play years ago.  I’m going to take this one a step further to say it’s not only about you, it’s about the people around you, too.

A quote makes its way around the internet every now and then, attributed to a character on DRAGNET from many years ago:

Everybody has a bag. Everybody has a gig. When your bag and your gig jive, man thats groovy.

In other words, everyone has something they like to do, and everyone has something they get paid to do.  And when those two things are in alignment, life is good.

LBJ had a bag and a gig that jived.  Politics was his thing.

LBJ’s surrounded himself with people who bought into the same thing.

And that’s where you come in.  As an individual, you have to manage the tension between your bag and your gig.  If you really enjoy spending your time gardening but make money in accounting, you can survive and thrive but I know where your incremental effort is going…into the dirt.

If you really enjoy gardening and your life’s work is a garden center that serves the community, then, man, that’s like rocket fuel. You might find yourself sitting around at 6am writing silly blog posts about it.

As a builder of teams, you have to make the same analysis.  If the people on your team thrive on the success of the team, then you’re onto something.  If they thrive on the success of some other team or on their own individual success or hobbies, then you probably aren’t on your way to building a great team.

Align your bag and your gig, and then find people who share a similar alignment.

What do you think?  Is it possible not only to derive energy from the hard stuff for YOU, but to build a team with the same values?


When it comes to being great, the secret is in the dirt

Is the secret to success really just about being willing to get into the dirt?

If you have spent more than a few minutes with me, then you likely have heard me chatter on about my passion for the game of golf dating back to when I started playing seriously twenty years ago.

In my experience in the professional world, I am often struck by how many of the lessons I’ve learned playing golf apply to the work I do on a day-to-day basis. One quote from the famously ornery golfer, Ben Hogan, sticks out to me the most when considering lessons learned. Someone once asked Hogan to explain what the secret to golf is and he curtly responded that

“the secret is in the dirt.”

At first glance, this statement seems like a vague piece of golfing jargon, but following a bit of deeper consideration, there are several valuable lessons to be gleaned from Hogan’s words that can be relevant for professionals in any field.

For me, the most important (and apparent) lesson from Hogan’s quote is the implied value of hard work, perseverance, and persistence. Like a golfer who spends countless hours on the range refining their swing, professionals in any field must be willing to put in the time and effort to improve their skills.

In business, this “digging of the dirt” may come in the form of working long hours to finalize a grueling contract negotiation, taking on an extra workstream that stretches your capabilities, or expanding your comfort zone through taking a public speaking course. These actions may feel like you are digging your way out of a never-ending hole, but when you’re able to reflect on them with some distance and perspective often prove to be the most instrumental in career advancement and growth.

Another important lesson I’ve taken from Hogan’s quote is the value in paying attention to the details.

In golf, a seemingly minor change to your angle of attack, grip pressure, or ball position can make an enormous difference in a shot’s outcome. What would appear to be two identical swings can result in vastly different results and it takes a trained eye to be able to detect the nuanced cause. Similarly, in business, small changes in a marketing strategy, product design, or updated process flow can produce an outsized impact on overall success. Things that make major differences are not always accompanied by major adjustments, so paying attention to the details in the dirt is vital.

For me, the secret in the dirt can be and can manifest as an innocuous second review of an upcoming presentation during which I find an embarrassing typo or as extreme as digging into a 40,000-line data set. The more I take the time to understand the details of an analysis or project, the better the outcome tends to be.

The “secret in the dirt” also represents the reality of failure and the fact that this can spur on future success.

High-performing professionals understand that failure is an essential part of the overall learning process and that it can provide valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t. By embracing failure and framing it as an opportunity to learn and grow, professionals can develop the resilience and perseverance necessary to achieve their goals. Tiger Woods, considered by many to be the best golfer ever, has only won 22% of the tournaments he has competed in; this means he fails in nearly 4 out of every 5 tournaments he enters. Keeping this winning percentage in mind helps me contextualize my own failures, whether that be an analysis that leads to no relevant insights or a working session which was not as productive as I hoped it would be. Realizing how to objectively assess the outcome, regroup, and internalize the lessons learned has been an important part of my professional development.

At its core, Ben Hogan’s secret in the dirt is that there is no secret in the dirt. Success requires hard work, persistence, the willingness to focus on fundamental details, and the value of failure. It is easy to believe that business lessons only come from education, books, or work experience, but I have learned just as much from unconventional sources (like a 70-year-old quote from a grumpy golfer).

Now it’s your turn: What secrets have you learned from digging it out of the dirt?

AI and the emergence of the centaur imperative for professionals everywhere

If the future of knowledge work isn’t now…it isn’t too far off.

Geoff Wilson

We’ve seen a lot of press recently on the launch and adoption of OpenAI’s ChatGPT client.

Suddenly, you can ask for an essay on any commonly covered topic and it will be written, in the voice that you choose; and you can receive it in seconds.

Suddenly, you can ask for a summary of research on almost any topic that is commonly covered, and with a couple of iterations and refinements spanning minutes, you can get a fairly well-structured list of facts…in seconds.

Suddenly, you can ask for a limerick on a dog eating dog food in las vegas, and have it instantaneously.

Ok, so that last one is true, but maybe less useful.

This technology, basically a natural language-enabled interface with the publicly available knowledge in the world up to about 2021, represents a change, a threat, and a massive disruption to knowledge workers everywhere.

At WGP, we often discuss a hierarchy of professional capability that goes something like this:

  • Produce process:  Get clarity on the steps to take if you have nothing else.  This is the most basic professional function.
  • Produce data:  Gather the facts, get the numbers in place, and provide the foundation for analysis.  This is the next level of professional function.
  • Produce insight: Analyze the data and produce higher-level insights that range from the mundane to the blinding.  This is the expectation of good professionals of all sorts.
  • Produce synthesis: Combine insights, draw implications, and deliver orthogonal thinking that re-sets direction and creates truly new thinking.  This is professional nirvana.  When you find someone who does this well, cherish them.

If we think about the implications for professional services of AI tools like ChatGPT, it’s easy to see that suddenly machines have gone from repositories and accelerators of process, data, and insight generation approaches to a very viable resource (more than a tool) for actually generating these things.

I have never looked at MS Excel and said “create for me a 3-statement financial model structure” and had anything happen.  That has been the realm of analysts and experts.  AI tools are going to do this in no time (if not already).

I have never looked MS Project and said “create for me a basic project plan in 50 steps to deliver a market research report on the stick whittling industry.”  That has been the realm of consulting managers and associates.  AI tools are going to do this in no time (if not already).

Machines are quickly going to overtake people in generally acceptable process, data, and insight generation.

It wasn’t too long ago that these things were only done by people.  For years, consulting firms have silo’d and offshored research capabilities to low-cost countries.  For years, law firms have hired lower-cost labor for legal research.  These lower-level professional functions are unlikely to survive the evolution of AI resources.

So what’s the imperative?

We’ll explore it further in other posts, but I’ll summarize it as this:  The future average professional will have to have the skills of the best professionals today…that is, the ability to critically assess vast amounts of available information, to provide proprietary insight not generally available or acceptable, and to generate unconventional synthesis.  

This will be true across all legal, medical, consulting, and executive services.

The future professional will be a centaur:  The head of a powerfully insightful and resourceful human on the body of a powerfully informed AI resource that provides available world knowledge at fingertip reach.

The age of summarizing Bureau of Labor Statistics data and saying “AHA!” are over.  We are entering the age of professionals delivering on what most consulting firms claim they deliver on:  Proprietary, differentiated, confidential insights.  We are also entering the age of human interpretation of machine-driven insights.

In short, we’re entering the age of the centaur professional.  If you hire professionals, demand a centaur.  If you are a professional…time to upgrade.

What do you think?  How do you think AI resources will alter the way we work in the coming years?  What’s the right path to “best” in this new world?

I want (you) to believe

Change management strategies are fundamental to strategy implementation.  How are you doing?

Geoff Wilson

Quick, think of a time that you made a really fundamental change in your life.  What did it take to do it?

Maybe you changed jobs or started a workout regiment.  Maybe you did something more drastic like ending a business or personal relationship.

Chances are, you made the change after thinking through the why, the what, and the how.  Chances are you didn’t make a fundamental change by leaping before you looked.

And, that’s the topic of this post.  Many of you who read this blog are leading change efforts.  You are hoping to implement new strategies (or retooled versions of old ones).  You are looking for fundamental change.

So, the question is this:  Have you looked before you leaped?  Have you set in place the fundamentals of change itself while seeking fundamental change?  The fundamentals of change can be characterized as the why, the what, the how, and the by how much

In other words, if you want to establish change in your diet, you have to convince yourself that the change is worthwhile (the why), that you know what needs to change in your diet (the what), that you know how you will feed yourself differently (the how), and how that difference gets quantified (maybe in calories, or in hours of the day you are allowed to eat).

These four elements are essential to change, and to management of change.  All too often “strategic” leaders fundamentally understand all of these aspects of their desired changes, but forget that other people can’t see inside their heads.

This is where going from believing in a change to leading change actually happens.

Let’s say you want to install a new way of managing customer accounts.  You know that doing so will lead to higher sales, can be done via basic templates, will be reinforced through monthly reviews, and can be measured in terms of completion and sales impact.

Simple, right?

Except, when you jump directly to templates and reviews with your salesforce, your organization subtly rejects the change.  Why?  They don’t have all of the fundamental elements of beliefs.  You are feeding them the what and how, but not the why and how much, perhaps.

In our strategic planning and implementation practices at WGP, we think about strategy implementation as depending on tried and true methods of change management.  T’hey include:

  • A very strong narrative or story (the “why”),
  • A very clear outline and ideally role modeling of the change required (the “what”),
  • An understanding of the skills and tools required for change (the “how”),
  • And an understanding of how change will be measured and reinforced (the “how much”).

If I’m a leader who believes in a desired change, I’ve convinced an important stakeholder–me.  The difference is I want you to believe.   No…I really need you to believe.

What do you think?  Are you using fundamental change management tools to drive your organization’s strategic change? 

Revenge of the microeconomist in the real world

We are in a world of opportunity and hurt.  Demand is high, spirits (and prices) are up, and supply is constrained.  What’s a leader to do?

Geoff Wilson

When I was a young man I learned microeconomics on the back of a simple diagram with two lines…one for demand (always downward sloping) and one for supply (this one goes up).

Turns out, the microeconomists were right.  Mostly.

We are living in a fever dream at the moment.  It comes with the pleasure fog of rising demand for…well…everything as people regain the confidence that they can interact and transact with one another without threatening lives. It also comes with the tormenting nightmare of not being able to hire, source, or build the products and services that they need.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. The most plausible explanation is that we are simply mired in the midst of a massive supply chain bullwhip that is synchronized around the world for once. As positive and negative information trickles out across industry chains, individuals firms attempt to adjust…and they do so badly.

Add the labor-market distortions brought by extended unemployment benefits, extended school and family support organization closures, fear of the unknowns around coronavirus reoccurrence, and general inflation; and you have a multi-faceted political and commercial game that would make George R. R. Martin blush.

But all of this is couched, at least for the moment, within a massive environment of opportunity.  Demand is popping for most of the economy, and poised to pop for much of the rest.

So (as I’m often wont to ask), what’s a leader to do?

Here are a few ideas.

  • Embrace, but prioritize, the opportunity: George Patton’s theory of war was “violent attacks with everything, everywhere” and, while Patton was certainly an effective field general, that theory won’t get you far when you have more opportunity than fuel (yeah, Patton ran out of fuel, too).  Reinvigorate your opportunity analysis approach.  Sometimes, in the cold light of day, an opportunity to serve an existing customer more deeply is actually a massive drain of resources that should be deployed to new customer demand. Sometimes, the opposite is true.  How will you know until you’ve actually thought about it?


  • Take the opportunity to actually, really, innovate: Your cupboard is almost bare and your stove is almost out of gas, but the customer is ready to eat. Sure, you’ve always cooked the meals in-house, but perhaps now it’s time to try something new.  Innovation is a funny thing.  We all “talk” about being innovative, but–as the old saying goes–necessity is the mother of invention. Use the constraints to identify new ways of serving customers and allocating resources.  Maybe it’s time to look more closely at your portion size controls, or your fueling strategy, or your staffing policies, to see if a habit of “just a little bit extra” for customers who are “in”  is creating a reality of “just a little too little” for new customers.  Maybe it’s time to look at your inventory (or talent) pools in Pacoima, Paris, Prague, and Pune and think about them more globally.  Innovation might just be the act of ensuring your organization has the tools necessary to allocate and reallocate resources. It might also be investigating whether your current models of working are overbuilt for accomplishing the task at hand.


  • Explore new supply chain structures and mechanisms: Your suppliers haven’t performed, so what do you do?  Hammer them. Am I right? Penalties, complaints, responsive declarations of force majeure, and just plain angry talk abound right now.  Maybe it’s time to think about how to partner differently.  I have no doubt that new, enduring partnerships will be forged from the fever fire of the current environment.  I also have no doubt that a lot of relationships will be broken in ways that won’t be forgettable in the near future.  Take the time to look your suppliers in the eye and solve problems with them.  Look for new ways of partnering.  Look for new economic models (maybe incentives vs. penalties). Look–most importantly–for the priorities you need to set.  Oh, and if you are the one getting hammered, it’s ok to partner more closely with those customers now…and then fire their keisters later.  An elephant never forgets.


  • Get rid of taboos: There’s that group across town whom you’ve never worked with because, well, you don’t like them. Maybe they stole your cookies once in the lunchroom in 3rd grade. Maybe they fired you once. Maybe they based their operations in China (or California) and you just won’t go there. Taboos can relate to suppliers you work with, customers you would never put on allocation, places you’d never recruit from, or any number of other things.  Your proverbial elephant maybe hasn’t forgotten a bad experience.  Maybe you need a new elephant. Challenge those old taboos.  We are in a time of supply creation.  Think that way.

These are ideas.  They might not apply to you, but then again some might.  I encourage you to look at your own situation for what it is, and choose accordingly.

The economists have us in their thrall at the moment. We are waiting for the invisible hand to rise up and do its work. In the meantime, we see opportunity, and we see constraint…and in between the two is the imperative to act.

Now it’s your turn:  How are you thinking about tackling the current supply / demand imbalance?  Punching an economist is not a valid answer. 

Your lack of takt is showing!

The faithful delivery of services and product on time is a challenge, maybe it’s time to apply more production-floor common sense to services.

Geoff Wilson

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before:  An executive hires a consultant to solve a problem.  The consulting agreement is for a lot of work–maybe redesigning the way an organization is structured–in a little time (and for a lot of money).  The consultant comes in, does the work “on time and in full,” and drops off the report at the end of the engagement.  The executive’s team hardly notices the consultant was there because, well, the consultant moved really fast and the organization didn’t.

The executive is left with a book, a recommendation, and a confused organization.

Sound familiar?  I suspect it does for those who have worked with any high-powered, high-fee consulting firm.

What’s the issue?

Well, let me unpack a notion from the world of lean manufacturing, and then come back to this example.

In lean manufacturing, one of the critical sources of waste is overproduction.  That is to say that making too much of a product and sloshing it into inventory is wasteful.  It wastes valuable production resources, not to mention valuable capital.

The solution to this type of waste is to align production resources to “Takt Time.”  Takt is a derivation of a German word that means “pulse.”  Takt Time, then, is the pulse of an operation or a business.  And, what is the actual pulse of a business?  It’s the demand for products and services within a given time period.  If demand for my product is thirty units per month and my organization is open every day, then my effective Takt Time–the time I should take to make and deliver a product–is roughly one day. Making more than one per day is wasteful.

There are many nuances to this line of thought, and it’s certainly possible to get too “lean” in your thinking.  Many companies have.  But the notion of Takt Time is super useful for an executive trying to balance strategic initiatives and daily business activities.

Let’s revisit our executive at the beginning of this post. Our executive has agreed with the consultant on the pace and delivery of a work product, but the organization is focused on daily management activities.  The strategic organization work falls into the category of important but not urgent.  In the end, the pace of the delivered work product is too fast for the organization to engage around at its current pace, leading to a far less than optimal delivery of the consultant’s product.

The product could be a total waste.

So what? Well, I bring this up because while Takt time is a concept that is well known in production environments, it is not well applied to services environments. And this is a tragedy.  Why?  Because products can be inventoried and eventually liquidated.  Overproduced services (like our consultant’s report above) are typically wasted.

To probably feel the result of a lack of service “Takt” in a lot of parts of your life. How often are you overserved “all you can drink” beverages by an overly enthusiastic server?  Maybe even more poignant in today’s economy:  How often do you find that your “subscription” service (for meal kits or pet food deliveries) ends up piling up wasted products, time or energy?

Often, I’ll bet.  And it’s because nobody actually aligned your real demand for the beverages or pile of meal kits in your kitchen with the actual pace of delivery.  When buying or selling services, consider the actual pace of consumption or the actual ability of the service to be consumed, and plan accordingly.

It’s all about Takt.

Now it’s your turn: How does matching service pace and demand fit with situations you are dealing with? 

Legacy lessons from NASCAR’s worst wreck ever

We all leave a legacy of some sort. Ryan Newman’s survival of NASCAR’s worst wreck ever highlights the contrasts of passive and active legacies.

Geoff Wilson

Do you know the legacy you are leaving with your business, team, or organization?

It’s surprising how little this topic actually gets highlighted when managers and executive teams focus on their strategic aims.  Sure there are legacies that are left via who you are–for example the ethical legacies like that of Marvin Bower at McKinsey or innovation legacies like that of Gordon Moore of Intel and Moore’s Law fame.  Those were probably not forged in a boardroom strategy session but rather through strength of personality.

But, there are also legacies left in a couple of other ways.  There are passive legacies that result accidentally, and there are active legacies that result from thoughtful focus and intervention.  This weekend offered a stark contrast of the two.

Monday’s Daytona 500 ended with a vicious wreck where driver Ryan Newman–leading the race at the time–was bumped from behind and spun violently into the wall of the final turn in the race.  His car, pictured above, went airborne, was struck broadside by another car at 190 miles per hour, landed on its roof, and then slid for a quarter mile or more in a conflagration of sparks and flames.  Here’s a post with that wreck:

Most are saying the wreck is the worst in NASCAR history.  Rescue crews took a long time to extract Newman from the car, shielded by black screens that usually signify tragic carnage on race scenes.  Speculation was rife that Newman was killed in the wreck, and prayers and concerns swept social media.

But, Tuesday morning brought news that Newman had survived.  As of this writing, details remain sketchy, but reports are that Newman is not only alive, but also is awake and conversing with doctors and family.  Doctors have said his injuries are “non-life threatening.” And, while such announcements can no doubt hide life-changing and awful injuries, they offer hope.  Furthermore, Newman’s survival illustrates an amazing pair of legacies.

The first, is the unfortunate legacy of the last race driver fatality in NASCAR’s elite division.  That would be the 2001 death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr.  Earnhardt Sr.’s death–on the same track at almost the same spot as the Newman wreck–happened one day shy of 19 years before Newman’s wreck.  For those who are not NASCAR-literate, that wreck killed the biggest legend in a sport that is rife with legends.  It was, put simply, the equivalent of Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Tom Brady, or Lionel Messi dying on the court or field.

And, it changed the sport.  NASCAR changed mandates for safety equipment and changed car and track characteristics significantly.   Many fans are acknowledging this:

At the same time, Ryan Newman is being acknowledged as having a safety legacy of his own. Newman has been an outspoken safety advocate who is responsible for the addition of the “Newman Bar” to the roll cage of the current NASCAR car design.  That addition may have saved his own life on Monday.

Which brings me to the punchline of this post.

The sad reality is that a lot of passive legacies are written in blood.  The Earnhardt legacy can certainly be characterized as such.  Without going too far in trouncing a legend, I’ll put it this way:  Earnhardt came from a tradition of selective usage and even modification of readily available safety equipment that was allowed within NASCAR at the time. But, that selective usage arguably cost him his life in a wreck that “looked” far less violent than the Newman wreck.  I quote “looked” because I know firsthand that television cannot convey the real physics of collision like this.

Active legacies, like Newman’s with the “Newman Bar,” are quite different.  They are active modifications in hopes of protecting the future. They are also often implemented without fanfare or–thankfully–tragedy.

Not seeing the connection to your legacy yet?  Consider such passive legacies as innovation funding or safety investment cuts to meet current quarter profit targets.  What do they leave for the future?  Consider such active legacies as protection of training and development programs for your team. What do they leave?

The list could be long on both sides of the ledger.  I only pose the question:  What kind of legacy are you leaving, and are you trying to leave it?

What do you think?

Are your people uninspired? Maybe it’s time to hang the DJ.

Your strategy is supposed to inspire.  Have you forgotten?

Geoff Wilson

What’s the purpose of your strategic plan?

The possibilities are endless.  Some might say that the sole purpose is to “enhance shareholder value.”  I’d argue that this old trope is no longer the gold standard.  Some adhere to the stakeholder model…which might be closer.  Regardless of the “concept,” a given business strategy has to appeal to a lot of people.

Strategy, inasmuch as it deals with things that are less certain and immediate, is an argument.  It’s an argument formed from assumptions that are (or should be) formed from knowable facts and less knowable (but educated) estimates.

But, something tends to happen on the way to building business strategies that derails one of the most important imperatives.  We lose the power of inspiration. Usually, we lose it when the hardcore management nerds get ahold of the strategic planning and implementation “ecosystem” and start overswhelming the organization with jargon, tools, and really smart pablum.

A strategy is an argument, for sure.  But it’s an argument that is–in the main–supposed to inspire action against specific aims.  And, when you lose inspiration, you lose action.

How do you know if you are building an uninspiring strategy?  Well, if it’s uninspiring to investors and the board they usually let you know.  Where it gets tricky is when it’s uninspiring for employees, customers, partners, or other stakeholders.  A lot of times, they will vote with their feet; and you don’t want that. The best way to test is usually to ask.  I know, I know…too easy. But, it’s true.

So what’s a well-rounded leader like yourself to do if you find less than stellar inspiration in the ranks?  Well, it depends on who the uninspiring one is. I’m reminded of the lyrics from The Smiths’ still fantastic song “Panic.”

It goes something like this:

Hang the blessed DJ

Because the music that they constantly play 

It says nothing to me about my life

Hang the blessed DJ

Do you see it?  Are you the DJ?  Do you know who is? Did you hire the DJ?  Did you allow the DJ (in the form of very smart but totally uninspiring consultants, perhaps) to hijack the strategy and make it a “value creation strategy” vs a truly inspiring enterprise strategy?

If you are authoring uninspired strategy, or hiring those who are, then consider starting over.  If your strategy isn’t touching people where they live…through things that are relevant to their lives and livelihoods, then you are probably going to get hung at some point anyway, so why not just do it yourself?

Build strategy to inspire. And if you haven’t done that?  Hang the DJ.

What do you think?

It’s what you give that matters

How much do you focus on what you give vs. what you think you do?

Geoff Wilson

“It’s not what you got, it’s what you give / it ain’t the life you choose, it’s the life you live.”

– What You Give, Tesla (the rock band)

Have you ever met an executive that focuses a LOT on the skills and capabilities she has amassed, but who forgets to measure the actual impact of them?

I have.

In the strategy world, we talk about capabilities, value propositions, and sources of competitive advantage.  Those are all super, super important.

The problem is, they don’t always translate to outcomes for those who matter most:  The customers who derive pleasant value from products, services, and experiences; and the employees and other stakeholders who play a part in delivering them.

In other words, only looking at your balance sheet and what it contains–both tangibly and intangibly–is a recipe for disappointment in the longer run.  And, it’s all about the longer run, so make no mistake.

Tesla (the rock band, not the inventor or the auto manufacturer) had a less appreciated song that I’ve quoted from above.  It essentially says, that life is about outcomes, not ownership or expectations.  Your customers know this.  Your employees know this.

Don’t you doubt it.

So as you think about your strategy–as you decide to position yourself for the future–be sure to focus on what you give and the life you live…not the things you have or the choices you think you are making.  Focusing on outcomes vs. assets can lead you to very different conclusions about how to position your business and yourself.

In other words, be sure to focus on outcomes and not intent. Intent is far less memorable to your customers and other stakeholders than outcomes.

You can take that to the bank.

What do you think?  Is it possible to focus on outcomes vs. assets?