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September 22, 1993

Spotlighting

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Focus your best assets on fixing your weakest link.

In your organization, where should you deploy your best assets and pump in the most energy?
In answering that question, many leaders would say that they would try to maximize what’s working best for them. For example, if a personal products company has launched a new line and the early sales are indicating great promise of profit, the leaders might pile on the sales resources to go for a big win.
And that kind of deployment of resources might be the best choice.
Unless there’s a problem somewhere in the system that’s serious enough to cripple the strategy.
Let’s say the distribution system that the personal products company uses is inadequate for handling larger volume. In that case, the whole strategy of growth is at risk. The smart move would be to throw in the talent that’s needed to fix the distribution problem first…and then double down on sales promotion.
It’s like having a water hose with a hole on it. Sure, you can crank up the water volume if you want, but it will only make the leak worse—and it might even ruin the hose. Patch the hole, then turn up the water.
I call identifying and going after significant problems spotlighting. You shine the bright light of your attention on your whole system until you find the weakest link and then you take steps to reverse the problem.
Why is spotlighting a valuable skill for a 3.0 strategist to have? Because your strategy can never move faster than the piece of the system that is lagging behind. And because you can never be more efficient in execution than your clunkiest process. Every real solution is part of a bigger ecosystem.
Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of a problem solving company, described the necessity of taking problems seriously and dealing with them quickly if you want your strategy to succeed. Here’s the scenario he outlined:

Someone in the bowels of the organization is assigned to fix a very specific, near-term problem. But because the firm doesn’t employ a rigorous process for understanding the dimensions of the problem, leaders miss an opportunity to address underlying strategic issues.… Organizational teams speed toward a solution, fearing that if they spend too much time defining the problem, their superiors will punish them for taking so long to get to the starting line.
Ironically, that approach is more likely to waste time and money and reduce the odds of success than one that strives at the outset to achieve an in-depth understanding of the problem and its importance to the firm.21

Where do you need to shine the spotlight so that your organization can open up the bottleneck that’s threatening to choke off the success of your strategy? Like Sherlock Holmes, sniff out clues and track down internal risks within your business or nonprofit. Like the Mission Control team assigned to Apollo 13, jump into action as soon as you hear “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”
Put your best talent on your hardest problem and clear it away fast so that your strategy can move full speed ahead.

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