Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Build What You Want, Not What You Know

My business partner and I have a mantra that keeps us focused on our vision: "Build what you want, not what you know."  I've found that simple phrase is key to strategic execution.

When strategy is approached from an operational basis -- that is, building strategies to get better at what you already do -- you are practicing Total Quality Management, not strategic leadership.

In The Breakthrough Company, Keith McFarland introduces the rock climbing phrase "throwing the dyno," which refers to taking a quick, gymnastic leap ("dyno" is short for "dynamic") to a distant hold.  It requires leaving the safety of your position for a higher position just beyond your grasp.

For some time my company has built a vision around a business model that represents the end point we want.  We have defined our most desired client base, business focus, as well as the lifestyle we want for ourselves, our families and our staff.  We've created descriptions and vision boards of what it will look like and practice gratitude for the ways in which we're already living the dream.  We've "painted the picture" both literally and figuratively.

What we didn't do until recently (even though it's led to every breakthrough we've ever had) was "throw the dyno."  We were unable to build what we wanted because we'd already built a significant part of the structure on what we knew.  Even though our company and lifestyle was in many ways what we had envisioned, a key component of our client base wasn't aligned with our vision and we didn't realize was how much it was holding us back. 

Problem was, that line of business represented a significant and consistent percentage of our annual revenue.  And, we had no hot prospects or recent successes to give us confidence we could replace it.

We stayed in that position for years.  We held on for financial security, for reasons rooted in ego, and because it was familiar and the clients were by-and-large pleasant to work with.  But it was a highly resource-intensive line of business that required so much focus it left us little time to pursue business we really wanted, which is the classic definition of "opportunity cost."

I believe opportunity cost is greater than any actual expense you'll find on the books.  It represents the business that could have been if you weren't so busy doing other things.

Good news is, we ultimately made the leap.  We finally exited that business line with no imminent prospect of replacing the revenue (you may recall one of my first posts in this blog was "Leap and the Net Will Appear" so you'd think this would have been easy).

We set an intention for abundance, which we backed with action.  We let go of the fear of uncertainty, leaving behind what we knew.  We engaged fully in a focused business development effort.

I'm happy to report that in less than six months we've done more business than at any time in our company history and are in the best cash position (by a long shot) since we started almost twelve years ago.

I believe now more than ever that to fully execute strategic vision, you need to build what you want, not what you know.  Letting go of a steady paycheck in uncertain times is always a risk, but you may never reach what could be if you don't let go of what's familiar but not what you want.

6 comments:

  1. Another really thought provoking piece about moving yourself forward. While you don't address it this way, you're also discussing the need for evolution over incrementalism.

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  2. Thanks, JT. It's easy to be lulled into complacency when things are "fine" even though the path you're on isn't fully aligned with your vision. It's much easier to make the leap when the ledge is crumbling beneath your feet and there's a bear behind you. Not so much when the only consequence of not moving forward is remaining in your comfort zone.

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