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Don't chase two rabbits

“The man who chases two rabbits catches neither.”

- Confucius

In a recent blog post, I talked about the legendary Canadian ice hockey player, Wayne Gretsky. Gretsky was famous for his ability to read the play and position himself ahead of the puck.

Gretsky, of course, could only skate to one place at a time. He had to make a choice. I bet he got it wrong a lot of the time. But, from his record, we must conclude, that he got it right even more often than that.

In my experiences, businesses hate making choices. Often, when I present a client with a range of different strategic options, their natural tendency is to want to do them all. To chase both rabbits.

This applies to choices about customers or customer segments, strategic initiatives, almost everything in business.

Strategy always involves choice. If there is only one rabbit and only one way to chase it, you’re not really doing strategy. You’re just hungry and trying to get dinner.

But as soon as there are two rabbits or two different ways to chase them, then strategy comes into play:. Which will you chase, why and how?

It is important to choose which rabbit to chase. It is equally important to choose NOT to chase the other one.

In fact, Harvard Business School strategy guru Michael Porter says that:

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

But most organisations treat strategy only as deciding what new things to do.

So it’s no wonder that employees often greet a new strategy with a groan. They already feel over-worked and under-resourced. And now they have all this new stuff to do on top of all of the old stuff they were already doing.

As a result, they get demoralised. They end up falling back onto old habits. They end up doing what they used to do, and not what the new strategy requires them to do. Or, inevitably, they end up not doing anything terribly well. They end up chasing two rabbits!

I remember talking to the CEO of a startup division within a large corporate. He had become quite desperate. They hadn’t even launched yet. But already there were 130 employees. He told me that everyone was madly busy and constantly telling him they needed more people. And yet, he couldn’t understand why so little was actually getting done.

After a short investigation it turned out that those 130 employees were running no fewer than 100 projects between them. It was chaos, with almost no focus. It took a few months, but eventually we whittled those 100 projects down to about 20 key projects which were actually required to deliver the strategy. Everything else was stopped. And with that focus, people were able to move forward.

They were chasing too many rabbits. It was only be choosing to chase fewer rabbits that they could move forward.

Even if you do need to chase both rabbits, you’re still better off doing everything you can to catch the first one before you start chasing the second one.

I heard a great mantra the other day:

"stop starting, start finishing".

And so, as business strategists, we should constantly be asking: What will you choose to do? And equally importantly, what will you choose not to do or to stop doing?

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