As a strategist – one who focuses on finding ways to out maneuver the competition – my conversations rarely touch on failure. If you read other strategists, most never talk about failure in strategy because the whole point of strategy is to avoid failure. But the reality is that it can happen, and certain decisions have to be made before proceeding.
Here’s the thing about strategy: if you are going to try to gain some strategic advantage, you will probably (hopefully!) try to do something disruptive (the iPod, for example, changed the way that people listen to music). Whenever you try something that is brand new – getting people to do something or think about something differently, you will experience some type of risk. With risk comes some opportunity for failure.
If you just looked from the perspective of product development or true innovation, you would see that most new ventures fail! That applies to new products, new inventions, new businesses, new prospects, etc.. How many companies launched products that you have never seen again? Perhaps some of their products were EPIC FAILS! (Think New Coke)
The challenge that we face is how to handle it.
One way to handle it is to avoid risk altogether, keeping to your little corner of the world and focusing on doing what you do, repeatedly, for the foreseeable future. While this is a very comfortable place, the challenge that many retailers and bookstore owners experienced when big box stores came to become the norm was that the change caused them to become obsolescent very quickly. We saw that same thing with mail order CD’s and DVD rental clubs when digital streaming and downloads became the norm.
Another option would be to quit. You would simply look at the strategy, say it didn’t work and throw the whole thing out. You will insist that strategy is a useless exercise in futility and a waste of time and money. You would say that there is no way to predict the future and that there is no way that anyone could effectively build a strategy for a small business. You might even offer the example that Thomas Edison tried to find the right filament for a light bulb more than 1,000 times before he obtained success. I offer that he had a single strategy of making the electric light bulb a marketable product and simply changed his method over 1,000 times in order to do it. Which he did.
Moving right along…you could take a multifaceted approach in order to spread the risk around versus putting all of your resources into a single strategic approach. In other words, you try to do a number of different things with the hope that one or some of them will work. Well…that is a strategy. It might look like developing different products for different markets, creating marketing campaigns to reach different audiences or opening stores in different areas or any number of other approaches. Guess what? Any or all of the components of this could fail. The question remains: what will you do next?
I offer that the most attractive option (although requiring a greater commitment) would be to evaluate what you have done, determine what went wrong and what went right, and regroup, keeping the valuable parts of the original strategy and learning from what didn’t work. Don’t stop at the lesson, though! Ask why it didn’t work. When device manufacturers find that a product that they are developing isn’t working, they will investigate the reason for failure, then will then harvest the components that can be reused and use them in the next version of the product.
What must be considered when investing in or committing to strategy is that strategy is not static; the environment, technology, society, economy and political landscape will change! Think about it like playing a game of chess or checkers: each time your opponent moves, the board changes, and if you did not anticipate the change, you will need to re-evaluate your strategy.
Your strategy is what will provide you the foundation for building an extraordinary company. While some or all of the beliefs created about the future may change, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the vision for your company should change. What it means is that your approach may change, or will, at least, be the first thing to change and that you should continue to take a heads-up approach toward achieving your company’s goals.
Rick Meekins is the Managing Consultant at Aepiphanni, the trusted advisor for business leaders who are seeking forward-thinking solutions to help them plan for and navigate through the challenges of business growth. Our entrepreneurial multidisciplinary team works with clients to develop differentiating solutions and provide direction focused on lasting, strategic results. We exist to help our clients CREATE | DESIGN | BUILD extraordinary businesses.
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