Business Growth & Strategy

Which Strategy is Right for My Company? Part 8- The Bottom Line

You say tomato, I say not-tomato

One guru says focus, another says diversify. One pundit says grow now profit later, another says be profitable from the start. One consultant says outsource for low cost, another says stay local for close coordination.

No one who sells one-size-fits-all strategy suits has the answers for your business. What we’ve discussed and what you’ve learned is something different and better: how to find answers for your business.

How can you tell the difference between a good strategy and a bad one?

What does a good strategy look like?

A good strategy is a good decision. That is important even if it seems subtle or duh-obvious.

A bad decision/strategy may have a good outcome. That doesn’t mean it was a good decision. It means it was lucky. I heard of a person who won two shares of a lottery, holding two winning tickets out of seven. Astounding luck for a terrible decision. (The better decision, of course, is to buy one ticket for each of two different numbers.)

A good decision/strategy may have a bad outcome. That doesn’t mean it was a bad de­cision. It means it was unlucky. The casino generally wins, but sometimes it loses. Note that the casino doesn’t change its strategy even if sometimes it loses. Plus, if it always won, who would play against it?

Sure, we can talk about the nuts and bolts of creating good decisions. That’s what we did in the seven previous installments. But this time is different.

(Incidentally, if you see “this time is different” in a strategy, you should instantly hoist an awful orange warning flag. Maybe this time is different. Just be careful. As Wikipedia says Prof. Marcello Truzzi said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” Similar statements have come from Carl Sagan, Pierre-Simon Laplace, and David Hume.)

What’s different this time is that we won’t talk about nuts and bolts. Instead, we’ll talk about track records and sensibility, uncertainty, complexity, and humility, and connec­tions and vision.

Track records and sensibility

What if I told you I correctly predicted the movement of the stock market for the last 30 years? (Notice, of course, how vague that statement is. Notice too how attractive it would be anyway.) You might thrust money in my direction. You might hang on my every word. (But you’re already doing the latter, right?)

What if I also revealed that the secret of my success is a twelfth-order statistical multi­progression (I made that up) based on the number of nuggets of Grape-Nuts in the daily box I buy? I hope you’d throw my vague, attractive track record out the window rather than speed to a supermarket.

A good outcome isn’t necessarily preceded by a good decision. A good outcome can come by luck. (We all know that even if we don’t like it.) The economy did better than expected, a competitor stumbled, an R&D project struck silicon, our marketing cam­paign went viral, their marketing campaign went plop.

Randomness exists. All we get for good decisions is better odds of success; we don’t get guarantees. So how can we tell good decisions from bad?

Here’s one way. Before you implement a decision, judge its sensibility. Before you im­plement it, so you are not swayed by the outcome. Judge its sensibility, meaning you can discern plausible causes and effects, not anecdotes, correlations, or a trail of Grape-Nuts.

Uncertainty, complexity, and humility

There are a lot of possible futures. More than we can intuit, more than we can compute, more than we can imagine. We don’t know which one we’ll live in.

Uncertainty means we are going to be surprised and we are going to make mistakes. Complexity means we simply cannot do the math in our heads.[1] My own simulations have shown me where my strategic thinking was wrong! The good news is that they helped me learn.

Knowing we will be surprised, we will make mistakes, and we don’t do math inspires us to pay attention, persevere, and seek help. It also humbles us.

Just because we are humble, though, does not mean that we are powerless. We cannot know everything but that doesn’t mean we know nothing.

We have discussed a variety of techniques and methods to help you better explore the terrain and possibilities ahead. They work. Not in the sense of telling everything, but in the sense that they help you make better decisions.

The right question is not whether a technique is perfect. None is. Neither, of course, is the calculator in our heads. The right question is whether you can make better decisions better with a technique than without it.

Connections and vision

People liken business to chess. It’s not a good metaphor because business is much more complex, there are more than two players, and the business game almost never ends. It is a good metaphor because you need to understand the game and anticipate your com­petitor.

It’s a good metaphor for two other reasons. One is that you don’t have separate strate­gies for pawns, bishops, knights, and so on; you have one strategy. The other is that you, the strategist, must watch the entire game board.

In chess and in business, everything is connected to everything else. Your strategy, and your vision, must cover the entire game board.

There’s always more

Dear reader, we have come to the end of this series. Thank you for staying with me.

As much as we have discussed, there is still much more to say. You can find many more essays and articles, non-commercial, on my website at https://whatifyourstrategy.com. And please feel free to contact me at mchussil@whatifyourstrategy.com.

Best wishes to you.

View Part 1 of the Series – What You Want

View Part 2 of the Series – What They Want

View Part 3 of the Series- Speaking the Same Language

View Part 4 of the Series- Generating Ideas

View Part 5 of the Series- “Holy Futures, Batman!”

View Part 6 of the Series- Deciding How to Decide

View Part 7 of the Series- (Still) Deciding How to Decide

About the author

Mark Chussil is Founder and CEO of Advanced Competitive Strategies, Inc. and a 35-year veteran in competitive strategy. He has designed strategy simulators and conduct­ed business war games for dozens of com­panies, in many industries, around the world, helping them make or save billions of dollars.

A highly rated and entertaining speaker, Mark speaks about strategic thinking at confe­rences and in corporate workshops. He has written three books, chapters for five others, and numerous articles, and he has been quoted in Fast Company, Harvard Management Update, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications.

Mark is also a Founder of Benefitics, LLC (which quantifies Social ROI for non-profit organizations) and a Founder of Crisis Simulations International, LLC. He earned his B.A. at Yale and his M.B.A. at Harvard.


[1] If you disagree, try this trivial problem: what’s (163,948 x 992,580) ÷ (4,822 x 33,086 x 1,020)?

Category : Business Growth & Strategy

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About the Author: Mark Chussil

Mark Chussil is Founder and CEO of Advanced Competitive Strategies, Inc. and a 35-year v

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