Do you plot a route to a destination that your car will take you? Or do buy a car that can take you to your destination? This is the set of questions at the heart of both strategy and strategy execution. And the answer is you can do either. It does not matter which you choose, although the practical side of me says, stick with what you know and what you have.
But do you really know your car’s capability? I knew my semi-broken down car very well. I was all too familiar with its brake problems and its reluctance to start in cold or damp weather. A major problem, since I lived in the Northeast at the time. But I knew how to work around these two problems, and therefore, was able to travel around the region. However, what really worried me was what I did not know – what would my car surprise me with next? After all, I only could carry around a finite number of brake parts, brake fluid cans, jumper cables and other paraphernalia. Equally important was my limited mechanical knowledge and skills.
Despite my worry about what I did not know, I was very reluctant to take my car to a mechanic for a full check-up, so that I would be aware of what was broken and needed immediate repair, what was on the on verge of breaking, and what was relatively durable. Despite understanding the need and the certainty that something else must be ready to break, I never went to the mechanic. I could not afford to pay for the check-up, but that was only an excuse. The truth was that I did not want to know. I was stressed enough cutting classes, playing sports, and socializing in college. I was doing well enough as things were, and I did not want to worry about a potential car problem that might not happen immediately.
Years later, I encountered my old mindset in others, whether as a strategy execution consultant or as a therapist. Most of us are content to accept what is, usually with much complaint, and not want to know what lurks beneath the surface. The medical profession encounters this all the time as well. People do not want to have regular check-ups because of what they may learn. Therapy patients do not want to change, yet they want the problem to go away.
So how is this typical human trait connected to strategy execution? Most executives have more than enough worries about a million issues in their firms. They and their teams know how to address and resolve most of the issues, which by nature are often repetitive. What they do not know is what lurks under the surface. What are the deep drivers of their operation? What variables in their organizational DNA cause the repetitive problems?
Perhaps a deeper dive – a look at their DNA backbone might be helpful? But only if they wish to change.