Why Commit So Much When We Know So Little?

Let’s picture this. An executive team is in one of a series of discussions on what the key efforts should be for the coming year. The focus is on creating the new and different. They need something that is going to differentiate them and create an advantage that will sustain them in an increasingly competitive market. 

The discussions are converging on five ideas. The problem is that resources for development are limited. Each idea represents a course of action the company has not pursued before. A decision must be made for the plan to be completed, for the budget to be finalized, for the teams to be chartered and for the work to begin. How can we commit to a course of action at a time when we know so little? 

Ever been there? Can you feel the pressure? What if we pick wrong? What if the resources are invested and the return is not realized? The selection of which new efforts to pursue can be moved away from a brinkman like behavior by some basic exercise in critical thinking. 

If a problem seems too complex, make the problem smaller. Thinking that a decision must be made to select the efforts to fund may be a false choice. Since the efforts all involve a new course of action, the first phase of each will probably involve some exploration.   

The leadership team could decide whether to fund exploration of all the ideas. The purpose of the exploration projects would be strictly to gather information. This information could then be applied at a predetermined time in the future to determine which efforts have generated evidence that further funding should be applied. 

If it seems like everything cannot get done at once, spread things out on the schedule. Sometimes there are more good ideas than there is time to complete them. Some projects can be left in an exploration level of funding wile others move forward. Deliberate efforts to continue exploration could create viable contingencies in the event one of the primary efforts faltered. It does not always have to be fund it or kill it! 

Sometimes slow is smooth and smooth is fast. If the effort involves the new and different it may be completed sooner and with fewer resources consumed if a slow deliberate approach is taken. This allows time for new information to be developed and applied. This will help reduce the risk associated with new endeavors. 

So if you are feeling pressure to pick the winner from the beginning, slow things down and think about it. Can you make the problem simpler? Can you create options that you are not tied into funding but could fund if you wanted? Can you create a pipeline of options with projects at various stages of development? Can you make your big problem smaller?

Joe Thompson

© 2016 Differentiating Strategies, LLC