“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu
I recently attended a workshop that included some team decision-making exercises. The scenario was this: you’re stranded in the desert, 80 miles from civilization, and you have a list of 15 things you could have with you. Rank the 15 things in order of importance.
My team thought about what we’d need to have in order to get ourselves the 80 miles to safety and ranked the items accordingly. The actual solution (from desert survival experts) was that there’s no way you’re going to make it 80 miles, so plan for how you’re going to survive where you are and attract the attention of potential rescue efforts.
It was an interesting exercise on a lot of levels, but for purposes of this post here’s the main idea: sometimes we get so caught up in solving a problem (figuring out what we need to make it 80 miles across the Sonora desert) that we don’t think about what problem we should actually be solving (you can’t make it 80 miles across the Sonora desert so figure out how to survive where you are).
We do this in our businesses all the time. Something seems like an issue, so we spend lots of time trying to fix it. Then after we think we have it fixed, nothing about our businesses or our lives really seems to have improved. We’ve solved the wrong problem.
So think of it differently. Ask yourself this: What is really the problem? You’re frustrated because your distribution system for getting out the widgets you make is clogged up. Is trying to fix the distribution system the issue? Or do you need to ask yourself if anybody even wants your widgets in the first place? You have to step back and ask the more strategic questions so that you clearly know WHERE you’re going before you start working on HOW you’re going to get there.
Another question: How do you define success? If you define success as getting widgets to customers as fast as possible, then maybe your distribution system needs work. If you define success as growing sales by 30%, then maybe you need a new product, or a better product, or to try different markets, etc. Think about success in strategic terms for your business and the real issues start to come forward.
One of the most important things leaders do is take a step back from the day to day “problems” and think strategically about what really matters. How often do you do that? How often do you get together with your team and do that? For most businesses, the answer is “Not often enough.” Take time to step back and think big picture so you don’t waste time fixing things that don’t matter.