Are You Trying to Climb a Mountain With No Safety Harness?

I’ve just returned home from a glorious week in Florida with my wife and daughters – it was an amazing trip, and most importantly my daughters had a blast.

On the plane home I watched the fascinating documentary and Oscar-winning film Free Solo, which documents the ridiculous and jaw-dropping free solo climbing adventures of Alex Honnold. If you haven’t seen this, it’s a MUST-SEE. Free soloing refers to mountain climbing with no ropes or safety harnesses.

Most free solo climbers fall to their death.

It was an appropriate thing to watch for me, as I found myself thinking about it many times as I caught up on my emails – many of which were related to last weeks Tidbit on Structured Growth (You can read last week’s message here).

One response to last week’s Tidbit:

“Sears was an extremely well-structured company, they had the golden book of structure in business, and it is one of the major reasons they are now bankrupt. I can name many companies that are and were very well "structured " and they are bankrupt, some are bankrupt of ideas.”

Another said,

“How can we get anywhere if we don’t know where we’re going.”

Here’s the thing…

Following a structured growth model versus having a rigidly structured company are two completely different things.

Structured growth is about giving yourself to permission to thrive, to innovate, and to explore, without a rigid endpoint in mind or worse, some useless vision & mission statement.

The three fundamental truths of Structured Growth are:

  1. Never have a strict end in mind because it limits you. But understand that what you need are crystal-clear processes, procedures, and structure. This is not suggesting the absence of goals or finding new mountains to conquer. In fact, you should constantly be setting new goals. My mentor often tells me the story about the client who said: “We don’t need your help, we grew by 20% last year.” To which he responded, “How do you know you shouldn't have grown by 30%?”
  2. You need clear accountability, expectations of activity, and metrics of success.
  3. You must take an organic approach to strategy. Your strategy should be revised every 6-12 months — not every 3-5 years. For many of my best clients, this is precisely what we do, and it’s powerful.

Much of the work I do revolves around helping my clients define the ideal future state and the structure required to achieve those goals. Many haven’t done that effectively enough.

Just because you feel your company has structure doesn't mean you're following a structured growth model. And vice-versa, just because you have a strong vision doesn’t meet you’re doing everything you could to reach it.

In an environment where 'Just follow the playbook we've followed for the last 100 years' is the culture, you're doomed to fail. Bill Gates wrote about the 'Speed of Change' 20 years ago, and it's only accelerating.

Your future state is a moving target supported by ever-changing people, structure, and processes.

The problem is most companies do two things poorly.

First, they are focused on tactics without a clearly defined strategy.

And second, they stop exploring. They’re so set in their ways that by the time they make adjustments, it’s too late.

Think about other things we hear a lot about lately like artificial intelligence, or automation or systemization. Lots of people argue against systemization and point to excess rigidity as a reason to not systemize anything – this is simple thinking at its best.

There's a reason free-climbing is so thrilling–mainly, because it's insane. Ignoring the simple and effective safety procedures that keep climbers from dying may make for a more thrilling climb, but it also creates far more obituaries than would otherwise happen.

Many companies opt to free-climb by ignoring the principles of structured growth.

Your Challenge For This Week:

Ask yourself (and more importantly, every other member of your senior executive team) these questions:

  • When was the last time we updated our strategy based on changing market realities?
  • When was the last time we updated our processes / procedures / structures to better reflect the changing market realities?
  • Which of our competitors have been quicker to adapt than we have over the past 5 years? What can we learn from them?