Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort. - Paul J. Meyer
Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing. - Thomas A. Edison
Failure frustrates me.
Actually, it’s not failure itself that frustrates me.
It’s how people fall into failure.
In many cases (not all), people are not victims of failure but instead, fall into it, earn it or deserve it because of poor planning or execution. People like to blame their company failure on poor market conditions (even though other companies in the same space thrive under the same conditions), external events that knocked them over (when they should have seen them coming and had contingency plans), their refusal to accept reality (when reality couldn’t care less about unrealistic dreams), their phenomenal ego and the like.
And THAT’S what frustrates me – the avoidable failures.
A few examples ….
1. The company that, despite my pleas to them to define strategic and tactical roadmaps around measurable outcomes, went off and spent a couple of million creating something only to discover that they hadn’t defined what was really needed. It was the only money that they had in the bank and now they are in trouble and because they are in reactive survival mode, they are once again scrambling around without a plan, having not learned the first time.
2. The company that, on its last financial legs, made an impressive pitch to investors (including myself) and secured $2 million in funding. All that was needed were a couple of financial statements which were promised in 5 days. When the 5 days had elapsed and the documents were requested, company representatives admitted to chasing a newer shiny object, a potential $25,000 sale so that they could pay for their upcoming Christmas party and therefore financials to investors would be delayed. When reminded that this priority selection didn’t make sense, the response back was a very long email outlining how “you don’t understand us”, “we are fighters”, blah blah blah. In demonstrating lack of communication, lack of priority selection (Christmas party over company survival), lack of humility (“you don’t understand our better way of choosing short term entertainment over long term success”) and the like, the company lost a life-saving investment and has reverted back to struggling and inevitable collapse.
3. The company whose senior executive can’t pass a single due diligence exercise, can’t back up his claimed background in the military and is burning every relationship (and dollar) in sight and yet people who have been warned continue to follow him blindly. Sadly, a lot of innocent people get hurt in such situations.
Strategic planning and effective execution is everything in my world and if you have done everything you can and things go wrong anyway, people can find little fault in failure.
But for the afore mentioned examples, failure is not only inevitable, it is, sadly (and perhaps this sounds mean), deserved.
A Different Way
One of my favorite techniques for determining strategic and tactical direction is by using a process called backcasting (a process that begins with starting at the end-result and working backwards to determine the right tasks to do, when they need to be accomplished and what resources are needed to accomplish them).
While many people are happy to go gallivanting off before they actually know what they are doing, I am not one of those. I insist, to the intense frustration of many people, that I can’t move on a project until I know where we are going, how we are getting there and what we need to get there and then answering the whole kit and kaboodle with the questions Why? and How do We Know?.
I have mused upon this many times, including:
- Backcasting–Avoiding Disaster in Government and Business (a paper I did at Stanford)
- Why Your Business Really Failed (a whimsical look at failure)
- Strategy and Degrees of Insanity (another whimsical look at how people who aren’t strategic often end up failing)
So when making a pot of sweet and spicy chili today amidst teaching some of my team members the art of backcasting, a thought dawned on me.
Why not mesh the two together and teach them a backcasting exercise under the guise of creating a delicious meal for the guys at the office?
What was born was this backcasting mindmap showing how to use backcasting in a typical scenario (in this case, making sweet and spicy chili). The mindmap is available here, free of charge, no email address required, blah blah blah!
The first three pages contain an explanation of the backcasting process for those who like a deep-dive, techie explanation.
The fourth page is an application of the backcasting process to create sweet and spicy chili.
The fifth page is the original recipe in plain English for those who couldn’t care less about stuff that excites the techie crowd.
Today’s little exercise reminded me of something.
Every day provides opportunities to convert mundane activities into learning opportunities.
How open are you to creating or participating in such opportunities?
After all, an opportunity missed is an opportunity lost (or wasted).
PS Eagle-eyed techie guys will notice on my backcast that the measurable (and final) outcome was the chili itself when technically, the last step is cleaning the dishes. I would like to counter their suggestion of an error in the diagram with my assertion that I’m the strategy guy and architect – cleaning up the mess is someone else’s business (inside joke).
The Bottom Line
Failure rarely comes by accident, is rarely unavoidable and is even more rarely unpredictable.
To believe otherwise is setting yourself up for failure which inevitably becomes a success opportunity for someone else.
And no matter how beautiful the strategy looks, the following is also true:
"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results" -Winston Churchill
Which side of the failure / success equation would you rather be on?
Intelligent strategy and tactics are an art and a science.
So is making good chili.
Do you do what is necessary to create success, including ensuring that the right strategic and tactical roadmaps have been created, expressed and agreed upon?
Are you sure?
How do you know?
In service and servanthood,