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Main | 'I' Vs 'We' »
Thursday
Aug302018

Staying agile in uncertain times

Keep moving, even if just a little

We learn the theory of momentum early. Sit on a stationary bicycle and it falls over. Pedal a little and it stays upright. Once you’re moving, you’ve got some control. You can go straight ahead or change direction. But go faster and the risk rises.

Uncertainty makes staying stopped or accelerating rapidly equally risky. To paraphrase Pink Floyd, no one tells you when to run. Do nothing and you miss the starting gun.

Both can be expensive

Does anyone remember Iridium? In 1998, it spent one billion dollars launching a global mobile phone system using 66 satellites. Visionary stuff, but it was expensive to use, handsets were clunky and the signal quirky. The mobile revolution turned out to be more earthly. Iridium filed for bankruptcy within a year.

Kodak missed the starting gun. Failing to spot the potential of the digital camera, it filed for Chapter 11 after 120 years of dominating the photography business. Today it’s a shadow of its former self.

What’s the appropriate speed?

A lack of clarity is not grounds for a lack of process. You may not have the certainty on which to base a full strategy but you can have a clear management process for examining your options.

What are the interim steps you can take that move you a clear direction. It may be the wrong one, but you learn the temperature by putting a toe in the water. If you don’t go too fast, you won’t go too far before you realise you are on the wrong track.

Minimise risk by viewing strategies from all aspects of your business. I might be good for customers but it may be a disaster for cash flow; it may appear technically exciting but you already do it efficiently. Get everyone’s input. Being agile is one thing but stress-testing the impact across the business is another. Do it sequentially, review thoroughly at each stage, then either do it, tweak it or drop it.

Keep your options open. Bill Gates kept the out-of-favour Windows project ticking over while Microsoft collaborated with IBM on the in-favour OS/2 platform. When the door closed for OS/2, it opened for Windows. We all know the rest.

Check the flip side. These may not be good times to build your customer base, but is it a good time to build their loyalty? How can you ensure they’ll be there when times improve?

Look for opportunities to do even better what you already do best. It may not be your product or service. It could be qualities inherent to your firm or your team – innovation, great service, quality, brilliant logistics or even simple things like location or convenience. Use them to experiment in adjacent areas without betting the farm.

Lastly, keep working the scenarios. Role-play the opposition. Get your team to brainstorm what the competition might be doing, either to combat their strategy or to copy it.

Whatever you do, avoid inertia. Action creates action. Keep your bicycle upright and maintain some momentum. Use it to steer through uncertainty until the path becomes clear.

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