Here’s what we’ve discovered to be the hard truth about “business strategy”: No such thing actually exists. We know, shocking statement that would put quite a few "traditional" management consultants out of work.
You know "traditional" management consultants: the people who recognize their own job can be silly, but still get enterprises to spend lots of money so 26-year old Dartmouth graduates can explain to management the best course of action (also known as ‘recommendation number two’). After all, these graduates can “collect data,” “crunch the numbers in a spreadsheet,” “design nice slides,” etc. etc.
Here’s what we know to be the truth about running a business in the Future of Work sense:
Companies win by “sensing and responding,” (aka “launching and innovating,” and “moving fast and breaking things”) working diligently, and leveraging randomness.
Let’s break that apart starting with sensing and responding. First, it’s important to remember that nobody, including (especially) management consultants, can predict the future. Numbers can be manipulated as easily as words (if not more so). Planning out “strategy” to anticipate the long-term future is crazy. So, we do what all start-ups innately do. We sense and respond. At Sobol, this primarily means asking customers what they need out of the product. After we’ve talked to enough customers we have a sense of what we need to build. We then respond with building what we’ve sensed. We build slowly since many times customers and (even ourselves) don’t know what it is we actually want. We iterate, get feedback, and iterate. The final product usually doesn’t look like we initially thought it would. We could never have ‘planned’ to build what we ended up building.
Another example: Sometimes new technology comes along that we end up supporting, or changing our core tech stack to support. We could never have predicted this technology would come along (I mean, if we were that prescient we probably wouldn’t need to work). So, we respond to what we’re sensing in the tech/software ecosystem.
Also, we’re pretty sure the sense and respond culture is much more fun than the long-range planning culture. It allows us to keep that “start-up feel.”
Working diligently. Yeah, building a company is a tough endeavor. We think of it as the ‘hardest fun’ we could ever have. We get that it’s not for everybody. But to succeed in the cutthroat world of small enterprise, diligent work is necessary. Why? Well, for starters, if you’re on to something, a competitor will enter the space. They might be better capitalized than you, and they might be willing to put in 100 hour work weeks to get off the ground. Second, early on, you are most likely not going to have enough employees to do all the jobs you need done. Everyone will be spread thin, and everyone will need to work diligently to accomplish all of the goals associated with their roles. But we choose the word diligent for a reason: if you’re building the right thing, the diligent work shouldn’t feel “hard.” Diligent work just means the work takes work!
Leveraging randomness. This is best explained with an Oprah Winfrey quote, “I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn't been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn't have been lucky.”
We could repeat the quote this way: “I believe success is preparation meeting randomness. If you hadn't been prepared when the randomness came along, you wouldn't have been successful.”
Most events in the world, we believe, can be explained by nothing other than randomness. You have no control over these random events. But you can be prepared to leverage them when they occur. Instead of fighting back against randomness, and trying to stay the course in the face of changing winds, embrace randomness and go with the winds. Research the history of successful tech companies and we think you’ll discover that they leveraged randomness early on to become the behemoths they are today (usually in the form of a pivot or new business line). And if they claim their success is primarily due to genius founders and executives, well that’s just fraudulent PR bullshit. Of equal importance, note the once successful companies who didn’t leverage randomness and fell from grace. (Looking at you Yahoo!).
Remember: You didn’t need a "traditional" management consultant to tell you to start building your business, and you sure as hell don’t need one to tell you how to run one. Not to completely knock management consultants, they are good at some things. We’ve found traditional management consultants are excellent at perpetuating the current way of working, striving for infinite growth at the expense of the health of people and planet.