October 31, 2007

News & Opinion: On Strategy: Paralyzing Fear

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 8:05 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

One trend that has come up in various conversations I've had lately has been the barriers to productivity. There are, of course, the literal barriers of corporate red tape, financing and other practical matters. I also had an invigorating conversation earlier this week about weaknesses as barriers with Dave over at The Freak Factor. Dave's a champion for acknowledging weaknesses and finding the right context to use them to foster productivity.
Another barrier to productivity is fear. I think one of the things we fear is innovation. And I'm not speaking of the changes that come with it. More so the literal shaking in your boots over the decision of what step to take next.
We live in an innovative world. Millions of ideas are accessible at our fingertips. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the influx of new ideas (think 6,000 business books are published each year). Sometimes too many ideas can become paralyzing.
Paralysis is Dan and Chip's message in their latest Fast Company piece [side note: I highly recommend checking out the Heath brothers' book if you haven't already].
A simple strategy can breath life into a paralytic state, making decisions relatively easy to make. Simplicity allows people to act, say Dan and Chip. Take an Australian Credit Union:
Even a one-liner can ease paralysis. The scrappy Savings & Loans Credit Union in Adelaide, Australia, has an internal strategic motto: "We don't want to be first but we sure as hell don't want to be third." The strategy is to stand back and let the first mover take the risk and grab the glory of innovation, then come in right behind and make a copy that's crisper than the original. The lessons for employees are clear. Constantly scan the environment for good ideas. Don't be first, be best. Look for new employees who are good, quick executors, not creative pioneers. And reserve the incentives for people who are improvers, not inventors.

Paralysis is caused by fear. A simple strategy can help reduce some of the fear and ambiguity associated with any decision. One spot to go for helping define strategy is the book Purpose. From Todd:
Nikos' thesis is four types of purpose matter for the business/competitive world. There are the discoverers who thrive finding the new. There are the helpers who are believe the world is a better place when those around them are happy. The strivers believe in excellence above all else. Heroes are the larger than life companies change the course of history, for better or worse.

For us, it's about being helpful. Everything we do is built around being helpful to authors, publishers, readers and businesses. That's built into our strategy and everything we do runs past that litmus test.
For Costco, it's about saving people money. For Apple, it's about being innovative. What's your strategy?
[As a side note here, a friend of mine sent me a post from Kathy Sierra on fear the other day. It's an older post as Kathy stopped writing awhile back. It's on understanding fear and overcoming it. Worth a look.]