Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Strategic Adaptation

Having a vision is critical. Not straying from the "big picture" - the ultimate desired outcome - is essential to long-term success. But sticking too closely to the letter and detail of a plan can actually take you farther away from achieving your desired outcome.

An oft-cited quote from success expert Brian Tracy states: "When an airplane leaves Chicago for Los Angeles, it is off course 99% of the time. This is normal and to be expected. A pilot makes continual course courrections, a little to the north, a little to the south. The pilot continually adjusts the altitude and throttle. And sure enough, several hours later, the plane touches down at exactly the time predicted."

That is the idea behind strategic adaptation. For leaders, like pilots, most of the flight time the plane is off course. Like a pilot, we must make adjustments to the speed and direction of the plane in order to keep it on course. Yet the beginning and end points are precise, even though the flight path is not.

For an analogy here on the ground, if we are driving and hear of a traffic jam ahead on the road, we will seek a different route that will take us around the jam, but will ultimately take us to our final destination.

So it is with leadership. Strategic adaptation in business means when new information comes along like the a change in weather patterns or news of a traffic jam, we may have to change course. But our final destination (vision) remains unchanged.

Kodak is a good example of a company that applied strategic adaptation. If Kodak had decided to remain committed selling only film cameras as digital cameras came on the scene, rather than strategically adapting with its own digital products and support services, the company might not be around now. The company's vision -- ultimate outcome -- remains the same, but its path changed based on new information.

In my view, strategic focus is far more important than strategic planning. In fact, many strategy thought leaders believe strategic planning is (and has been) dead. Does that mean you shouldn't have a plan? Of course not. But as leaders, we need to keep our eye on the long view. As Steven Covey says, we need to "begin with the end in mind."

With this in mind, we set our flight path for the final destination but consistently correct course as weather patterns and ground conditions change.

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