Thursday, July 7, 2011

The "Every Option as the Best Option" Strategy

By accident, I discovered a new approach to strategy making (okay, I've never heard of it before so at least it's new for me), which I call the "Every Option is the Best Option" approach.

As we get older, more spiritually centered and have been through more than one stretch of difficult times -- divorces, deaths, financial meltdowns, job loss and such -- we're prone to make a statement that goes something like this: "What I thought was the worst thing that could happen to me actually ended up being the best thing that ever happened."

Then we go on to explain how after a divorce we truly blossomed, had a spiritual awakening, did something we'd always wanted to do, etc. Or after losing a job, had the opportunity to travel. Or having lost a business, started a new one that was our true calling. And so on.

I have a friend who said of life, "It's all just lessons and blessings." With that perspective, every scenario is a win-win. It comes from the realization that life's greatest moments often arise out of life's greatest tragedies. Our greatest spiritual growth is often (or in my experience always) born of pain. The epiphanies that come from getting to the other side of a difficult experience are usually the most profound and the ones for which I am most grateful.

In short, I don't know what's good for me. And I'm going to go out on a limb and assert that you probably don't know what's good for you either.

I'll bet just once in your life you wanted something really bad and were heartbroken when you didn't get it. And in retrospect you said, "Man, I really dodged a bullet. It's a good thing I didn't get that." Or, just the opposite. You got what you wanted and realized you didn't want it after all. And both of these outcomes taught you some important things, not the least of which was: I don't know what's good (or bad) for me.

So what does any of this have to do with business strategy?

I had a wake-up call when faced with potentially losing a substantial piece of business. My business partner and I got together and tried to line out the various scenarios and judge them according "best case/worst case" and ran through a number of "if this happens, then. . . " projections.

At first most of the discussion was around preventing or delaying the loss, as if this were our best option. But as we went on, we asked more fundamental questions like -- do we really need the business? Do we really want it? Are we losing opportunities because we focus too many resources on keeping this business? Would we better off focusing our efforts in other areas that better align with our strategic direction?

It started to become clear that losing the business might not be the worst thing that could happen. In fact, it might even be beneficial.

In the end I said, "Why don't we just assume that every outcome could be the best possible outcome for the company." From then on, we could look at every scenario and see how it could benefit the company. If we keep the business, we'll be able to do ___, which will make us better off. If we lose the business, we'll have more time to focus on___, which will make us better off.

In other words, we looked at how every outcome was the best outcome.

I'm not sure why this was such an epiphany. When it comes to life experience, I've gotten into the habit of looking at difficult times almost immediately from the standpoint of, "It's painful now but I know I'm going to grow from it. I'll have some great lessons once I get to the other side." And it's true. I've come to rely on this wisdom, as it allows me to recognize the blessings that come from the lessons.

If I don't know what's good for me in terms of life experiences, it likely follows I don't know what's good for the business in terms of business experiences. Perhaps the worst thing that could happen to my business will be in retrospect the best thing that could happen. Including going out of business. I'll leave no scenario off the table as the best option.

What's the advantage of the "every option as the best option" approach to scenario building? Well, no matter what happens, you've already identified a positive strategic response.

But, of course, many times the actual outcome is one we never even thought of. The beauty is this approach can be applied in real-time, too. You can begin to think right away about how what just happened is the best thing for you.

If you analyze each worst case scenario from the perspective of how it is actually the best case scenario, then if it happens, you can throw a high-five, saying "Yes, this is exactly what I had hoped for because now I'm going to have the opportunity to". . . do whatever cool thing you'll be able to do because of what happened.

"Every option as the best option" gives you an immediate, positive response to what you might have seen previously as a setback. After all, it isn't a setback. It's the best thing that could have happened to you.