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April 13, 1991

Imperfections

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Every strategy, even one of the really good ones, is flawed and requires compromise.

Business consultant Stuart Cross tells the story of working with a retail company whose leaders considered an idea to target a new group of customers through a nonretail channel. Modeling suggested that this strategy could net up to 50 percent top-line growth in sales. The problem? The same modeling showed that the profit margins in this new activity would be only half that of retail sales. This was enough to deflate the executives’ interest in the strategy. Better to stick with a type of sales they understood better and could wring a fatter margin out of, they reasoned. It took one brave and far-seeing manager a full year of negotiations with his higher-ups to convince them that they should devote resources to the nonretail channel and figure out how to increase margins along the way.11
This was a company that was ready to forgo a huge opportunity because a proposed strategy was imperfect.
Others, by contrast, accept imperfection and move ahead anyway.
Before becoming mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg built up a financial information and media empire. Looking back in 2001, he identified one key to his success as being his company’s willingness to put a good strategy into action quickly without insisting that it be perfect first.

We made mistakes of course. Most of them were omissions we didn’t think of when we initially wrote the software. We fixed them by doing it over and over, again and again. We do the same today. While our competitors are still sucking their thumbs trying to make the design perfect, we’re already on prototype version No. 5. By the time our rivals are ready with wires and screws, we are on version No. 10. It gets back to planning versus acting. We act from day one; others plan how to plan—for months.12

No matter how much you love a strategy you’ve come up with, don’t make the mistake of thinking it is perfect. It isn’t. You can’t foresee everything.
Of course, you shouldn’t proceed with a strategy that is so badly flawed that it’s unworkable. Don’t short-circuit your own progress by planning poorly. You need to take the commonsense steps of doing rigorous analysis, avoiding overconfidence, and so on.13
But if the strategy has strong potential, despite some weaknesses or unknowns, learn to live with the flaws until you can compensate for them later. Trust in your speed and adaptability to enable you to invent the future on the fly.
I love how one tech blogger argued that it’s better to get a product to market than to dawdle over making improvements.

Your company, product, service or application will never be finished. It will never be what you would consider to be “perfect.” Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs don’t get this concept. They lock themselves away in dark rooms and keep tweaking and tinkering, thinking that if they can just get everything perfect, their business will be a success.
In the meantime, those companies that simply launch their offering gain a major advantage. While they wouldn’t launch something half-finished they realize that 90 percent perfect is “good enough.” They understand that there’s really no way to know every flaw, bug or feature request until they actually get their product in the hands of their intended customer.14

Let “good enough” be good enough for your organization. Don’t swallow the opportunity cost that comes from squelching a promising, though imperfect, strategy.

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