Sometimes not having a strategy is the best strategy

The importance of strategy is woven into the fabric of every consultation and class I teach.  I shout it from the mountaintops.  And yet, sometimes I break my own rules … and with good reason.  In a fast-changing competitive marketplace, sometimes not locking into a strategy is the best strategy.

I have an entrepreneur friend who said that his start-up company has a different direction every three months. On the surface, that may seem extreme, but when you are a small company, even something like gaining a new customer, hiring a new employee with special skills, or a sudden move by a competitor can dramatically create a course correction.

One of the most costly mistakes you can make in business is brilliantly executing an obsolete strategy.

In my particular field, the dynamics are changing tumultously. Right now, building a competency in social media marketing is barely-controlled chaos.

2011 was really a year of “wait and see” for me.  And I’m glad I took this approach.  It was uncomfortable in some ways but I needed to just let things unfold to see what monetization opportunities would emerge. Here’s what happened:

Although I have been teaching at the college level for several years, the demand for my services shot through the roof in 2011.  I was flexible enough to embrace opportunities that didn’t exist at the beginning of the year.

My consulting business shifted dramatically from multi-million dollar companies to multi-billion dollar companies.  I think this is where I am more comfortable, but it means I would have to risk more by taking on fewer, larger clients.  And can I find the right resources to help me scale in this way? Some big strategic decisions will have to made for 2012.

The speaking schedule also shifted quite a bit in 2011.  I evolved and matured as a public speaker and learned that I am very good at this.  Do I want to grow the speaking side of the business?  The trade-off with travel — is it what I want? I’ll have to bring focus to this area in the next year.

The Tao of Twitter, was released in February 2011 and was a surprise hit (at least to me!).  My second book will be released by McGraw-Hill in March and the publisher is expecting big things. This is going to throw me into a new public spotlight and undoubtedly open up more writing opportunities.  Should writing books be an emphasis going forward?

And then there is {grow}.  Blogging is the favorite part of my job but I have done a poor job monetizing the property, at least directly.  I have a new video series coming out in January and a few other ideas but I have definitely sub-optimized these opportunities.

This is a round-about way of saying that it was a very good strategy to NOT have a strategy in 2011.  None of these opportunities would have been fully available if I had decided early in the year to wed myself to one defined path.

Now, I need to be clear that although my strategy was in flux, being fully aware of my core competencies and points of differentiation were not. That’s an important distinction. In a dynamic marketplace, remaining open to strategic shifts is OK but it only works if you are clear about how you uniquely create value.

So I’m going to spend a little quiet time over the next few weeks assessing my opportunities, combining them with my passions, and defining the best monetization path and focus for the next six months. Even now, I don’t think I want to lock in completely. Is there even such a thing as a long-term strategy any more?

That’s the way things are playing out for me.  What is the role of strategy in your company? How has that changed with the increasing speed of business? How do balance the need to stay numble with the benefit of a strategic plan?

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