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April 1, 1997

Progression

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Advancement is about taking multiple steps, not making one genius move.

Business scholar John Kotter examined more than one hundred companies that were trying to adapt to increasingly challenging competition. What did he discover?
“The most general lesson to be learned from the more successful cases,” he reported, “is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time. Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces a satisfying result.”18
Jim Collins, similarly, has shown that successful companies undertake a “20 Mile March” of methodical steps toward their goal, not a sprint to the finish line.19
In chess, you don’t get to get to checkmate until you clear away some pieces and follow a precogitated sequence to pin your opponent’s king.
Most baseball games are won on the strength of base hits and steals, not home runs.
My point in all this is that, much as we’d like to think there is a silver bullet in strategy, there really isn’t. One genius move won’t give you success. You have to get there one step at a time.
This is actually good news, since most of us aren’t geniuses anyway. Victory, it turns out, goes to the merely canny who work hard and never give up.
Yes, you have to move fast in Strategy 3.0. But you also have to expect to keep moving. You move fast again and again. This means that, along with agility and adaptability, you need some old-fashioned virtues like patience, discipline, and determination.
Of course, not all moves in organizational leadership are equal. Some are more important than others, even extremely important. So I am not saying that a single insight can’t lift a company above others or force a new trajectory. But to take one insight all the way to its fully leveraged end might involve dozens of moves, not just one.
Since this is the case, you need to build muscle into your organization. Model perseverance and a savvy, slippery go-get-’em attitude. Don’t get too excited about any good outcome nor too discouraged about any bad result. Sure, there are incredible things to celebrate and serious setbacks to overcome, but don’t be a leader who is always at one extreme or the other. Learn to live in the middle. Advance, assess, repeat.
When your organization gets to where you had hoped it would go—or maybe even someplace better—you’ll look like a genius.

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