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Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been

I remember the first time I watched live ice hockey. I was with my cousin, watching her kids play in Boulder, Colorado.

Even at their relatively junior level, it's a great spectator sport. It's fast, it's physical, and it's non-stop. In fact, its a great analogy for business in today's very competitive environment.

Wayne Gretsky is a Canadian ice hockey player. In his prime, he was so good that the earned the nickname 'the Great One'.

Curiously, Gretsky was not know for being the biggest, fastest or strongest player on the ice. You might think that these were the qualities that counted most for an ice hockey player. But, despite these short-comings, he had still earned his reputation as the best.

When asked what his secret was, his answer was disarmingly simple:

"I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been."

(Reference)

Unfortunately, most businesses don't do this. They behave more like 8-year-olds on a soccer field - all chasing after the ball.

If you doubt the ineffectiveness of this approach, then watch this video.


Have you ever noticed that professional sports people anticipate the game. They position themselves ahead of the play. In the open space. Where the opportunities arise.

Young children, on the other hand, have a tendency to chase after the ball in small groups. All doing the same thing. Never quite catching up. Or, at least, most of them do until they've been properly coached.

It’s easy to understand why businesses behave in a similar way. We’re creatures of habit. We're under-coached. So when the going gets tough, we fall back on what’s worked before.

Most managers got promoted because they were successful. But that could have been 5 to 10 years ago. Some of them have been resting on their laurels ever since. So when faced with a new problem, they revert to what’s worked for them in the past. We all heard the dreaded: “that’s just the way our industry works” or “that’s the way we’ve always done it before.”

I remember many years ago waiting to go into a board meeting. I overheard two directors discussing with some excitement how they’d both just renewed their insurance online. This was when that was still new and exciting, so quite a long time ago. But 20 minutes later, those same 2 directors rejected a proposal, because “we all know that people don’t buy insurance online!”

One of the key advantages of strategic thinking is that it gives you an opportunity to get a head of the ball. To get ahead of the competition. Ahead of the market. To skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.

If you're chasing after the ball, you will never catch it. It keeps moving. It's always ahead. You're always behind. Eventually, you'll exhaust yourself. It will be someone else who scores the goal.

The say that the only constant is change. Tomorrow will not be the same as yesterday.

And so, as strategists, we should constantly be asking ourselves: What will we need to do to succeed in the future, and how is that different from what we needed to do to succeed in the past?

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