Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


A good metaphor for strategy

Over the past several years, I’ve worked with a wide variety of companies on IT best practices.  One of the things I’ve noticed is that some organizations are more adaptive than others, particularly in times of stress or crisis.  I think it has a lot to do with whether the business emphasizes instructions or strategy.

The businesses that run based on instructions often do quite well during normal operation, but always seem to have trouble when the unexpeced happens.  That’s because they are biased toward specific guidance (policies and procedures) reliant on the premise that they have anticipated everything and have it documented somewhere.

In contrast, organizations that have a bit less formal process but strong core principles and explicit strategies tend to be more adaptive, more agile, and more innovative.  They are able to distribute responsibility more broadly, react to new conditions fairly quickly, and spend a lot less resources on unplanned activities (aka “fire drills”).

Imagine that a giant labyrinth is before you.  Labyrinth

  • If someone gives you a set of directions to get through the maze, you’ll do fine in that maze but your directions are useless in the next labyrinth.  And, if you lose the map, you’re in big trouble.
  • In contrast, if someone gives you a strategy like “Keep your right hand on the right wall and follow that wall until you get to the exit.” you might take a bit longer to get through, but that principle will work on any labyrinth.

Does your business run on instructions or strategy?  Ideally, it isn’t just one or the other.  As with most things, the key here is balance.  However, if you are going to emphasize one end of the spectrum over the other I’d recommend you invest more in communicating the core principles and strategy of your organization.  A strong grounding in these areas across your company will allow you to leverage the best your people have to offer.