[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

The perspective of long range thinking

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Today, I created a separate twitter account (thinklongrange) to start communicating on the specific topic of long range thinking. Some refer to this as strategic thinking.

Coincidentally, after I created that twitter account, I stumbled upon the Change This manifesto by Rajesh Setty titled 25 Ways to Distinguish Yourself. The item #14 in the manifesto is “THINK LONG-TERM”. I agree with Rajesh that many are becoming “short-term thinkers”. Everything from the collapse of the American financial industry to the perils of global warming to the rampant corruption across governments is because of focus on short-term gains. What we lack is a vision for the future – a vision for world at large as well as for our own personal future. The convergence of these two positive visions should be the impetus to give our best every single day.

Perspective from Mountain Top

Imagine you are standing on top of the mountain with the breathtaking view of the city in front of you. You can see the lake swirling around the city while on the other end airplanes wait in line to land. You see that what you thought as the tallest building is not really that tall and that there is much taller builder now on the west of the city. You notice the east of the city is dotted with more greener than rest of the city. You cannot make these observations from elsewhere inside the city. You needed to be at a range long enough to appreciate this perspective.

With this perspective imprinted in your mind, would you now go about your life in the city a bit differently? I believe you will. The next time you want to jog, you will more likely chose the east of the city with more trees. Won’t you?

Thinking long range provides the crucial perspective that’s not isolated from short-term thinking. In fact, your shot-term thinking will be entirely different after you take a stroll from a long range perspective.

So whether it’s called for or not, next time you approach a problem, take an imaginative (or real if appropriate!) step back to get a perspective similar to the one from the mountain top. Spend minutes, if not hours, observing and digesting what you see from that perspective. Bring those observations back with a closer-look at the short-term details of the problem. Though the solution might still take longer to arrive at, you will be amazed at the quality of the solution.

What is Strategy?

Friday, September 10th, 2010

My definition is – Strategy is “how” to accomplish a certain goal.

That’s the simple part. Let me help with a bit more detail.

There are usually many ways to accomplish a goal. As you think about each one of these ways, you will know which ones are good ways and which ones aren’t as good. You may have many good ways, and ideally you would chose one among the good ways to accomplish a goal and move forward with “doing” whatever needs to be done for that particular way of achieving the goal. Whatever way you picked is your Strategy. If it works well, you achieve your goal. If not, you go back and pick another way. Now you changed your Strategy and go from there. Sometimes, you may pick more than one way and do it at the same time. Which means you have multiple strategies to achieve your goal. Even if some of them fail, you stand a better chance of achieving the goal through multiple strategies route. Of course, meaningful goals need time, resources and money to achieve them, so multiple strategies may not be economical in all cases.

Enough theory. Lets do a simple exercise.

Our two-year old sometimes throws big tantrums before dinner. So my goal is to “Make my son eat dinner”. Let’s say I have say 3 “ways” to make him eat his dinner.

1) I tell him I will read his favorite “Are you my Mother” book if he cooperates and eats.
2) I offer to give him 4 M&Ms if eats dinner in full.
3) I decide to sit and eat with him, so he enjoys my company while eating.

Each of the 3 ways may or may not help me achieve the goal of making him eat. I wouldn’t know until I try. There are certainly some benefits to each and some pains (I don’t want to read ‘Who is my Mother’ one more time, please!).

Let’s say I pick the easy M&M route. So that becomes my Strategy to achieve the goal.

Now I got to do it! I have to tell him in the nicest, most convincing and believable way that he will get 4 M&Ms as soon as he finishes dinner. He may listen or may ignore altogether. (Its not so much the M&M as much as the 4 that does the trick. He could care less if I said 1 M&M!)

If this Strategy works, great! If not, I go back and evaluate the other two ways and pick my next one and do it. If he is smart, he would force me to pick more than one strategy and get me to read the book and enjoy his 4 M&Ms!

Source: Citizenpaul.com

That’s all it is for Strategy. I know the example is ridiculously simple. In reality, there will be many ways and each one with many constraints, costs, assumptions, implications, what not. In the end, how you approach is no different – whether it is for US’s military strategy in Afghanistan or Microsoft’s strategy for XBox or my local diner’s strategy for Sunday Brunch.

By the way, the usage and meaning of word ‘Strategy’ is very different from the meaning and usage of the word ‘Strategic’. The word Strategic (forget how dictionary defines it!) is a modifier and it usually means, in simple words, “Long term” or “High Level”.

Strategic Decision means a decision that will have Long Term consequences. Strategic Location means a location has Long Term impact – benefits usually.

Strategic Plan means High Level or Long Term Plan. It supposedly should include the goals and the strategies – but most don’t. That’s a story for another day.

Why I like NetFlix – and lessons on business strategy

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

I was hooked to NetFlix when they launched – Of course, need I say I love movies? NetFlix kept my appetite going for many years. When BlockBuster made a move to offer online rentals, I had no reason to notice. When BlockBuster made a move to exchange online rentals for in-store selections, I was impressed. As a student and practitioner of strategy, I think this is one of the brilliant business moves. Right when everyone was dismissing video stores as useless brick and mortar assets, Blockbuster brought an innovative solution that converted a supposedly wasteful asset (stores) into a strategic one.

Alas – BlockBuster couldn’t sustain its strategic thinking. If you search for Blockbuster in the recent news, there are going down the drains – possibly bankruptcy soon. Among other reasons, NetFlix is definitely one big sucker kicking their butts.

I can’t stop praising NetFlix. Their collection of movies, documentaries, TV shows etc is more than enough for any above average movie/TV buff. They offer streaming at the same cost (Blockbuster was charging separately!). They offer streaming to TV via Wii – no extra cost or extra hardware, Do you want more? Now, I can watch NetFlix streaming in my damn iPhone – again no extra cost. I’m loving it. I really think future of customer service and retention is this – offer your products and services around the customer’s convenience.

I imagine the guys in the boardroom of BlockBuster still think they know what they are doing. I bet they don’t. As they were ignoring NetFlix, another innovator – RedBox is killing them. If you ever think of renting a movie in BlockBuster, think again…and perhaps, look around, you will find a RedBox and that’s all you need for the night. In my opinion, Blockbuster is letting RedBox and NetFlix kill it, rather consciously. Pick any business consultant from the street he could tell you to how to handle it (leverage you brand strength, buy one or both of them or offer the same services – just ridiculously better and cheaper).

These guys are all in the dog-eat-dog business so let’s face it and fight to win. Watch out – Folks are already saying NetFlix won’t have this business for too long. I have been expecting NetFlix should buy RedBox. Then, YouTube, Apple, Amazon, Hulu and a host of others streaming movies, TV shows and user content left and right. Besides, TVs already have built-in internet so streaming is going to be as simple as flipping channels. So I won’t be surprised if NetFlix gets killed or sucked into Amazon or some other big dogs.

But something tells me these guys are smart and will continue to innovate and play the game. As for rest of us, let’s enjoy those documentary on NetFlix that we would otherwise never to get see and along the way, watch for some real world lessons on business strategy.