Wednesday, August 4, 2010

when Logic Is Not Logical--chapter 3

Most strategic planning sessions follow some sort of SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). When companies aren't thorough or listen closely to the bits of truth that are being mentioned, one of those areas can be emphasized without fully exploring the impact in the other areas.


Dave sat at one of the tables, next to Jane, another plant manager. He reviewed the agenda while others filtered into the conference room, including the president/CEO, Stephen. Stephen was the hotshot CEO brought in from a Fortune 100 company. He was collegial, intelligent and ambitious.

After greeting everyone, he introduced the day and the agenda. They ran through the SWOT analysis, naming the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, without challenge or a framework to make sure they had looked at internal and external aspects. One of the strengths they mentioned multiple times from different perspectives: a creative electronics design team.

In the afternoon, after a leisurely lunch, and mostly idle chit-chat, Stephen encouraged the team to brainstorm new products based on their morning analyses. They were going around the table. When it was Jane's turn, she suggested, "Renewable energy sources will be growing in the next decade. How about wind energy test panels?" That was greeted with a few nods while it was written down on the board.

All eyes turned to Dave. Nervous, because he didn't want a lame suggestion, nor did he want to make a conservative, cautious suggestion, he made a suggestion based on a recent incident--the irate call from someone selling obsolete components to the EPA. "I suggest we create plug-and-play replacement modules for some of our obsolete environmental modules, as well as our competition's. We had quite a few units in the '70's and '80's when environmentalism was growing. Now it's making a comeback and there's a lot of old equipment out there. People want replacements, not new, more costly units."

A cursory acknowledgement from Stephen, as he wrote it down under the other suggestions, came with the words, "Thanks, Dave. Good suggestion." However, there was no enthusiasm behind the words.

They finished going around the table. They did a few more rounds, and then Chuck, the VP of Marketing, having waited half of the afternoon, finally laid out his so-called visionary product idea. "We're really good at design and combining electronic elements. There's a lot of untapped consumer demand and desire out there. Most new products sizzle when people realize that they really needed the new 'thing' but didn't realize it until the it was on the market. We can tap into huge volume by creating a product that people didn't know they wanted until they see it. Here it is: we all talk to other drivers in our own vehicles. Only our spouses hear us. We gesture. We honk, and flash lights. But we're not really getting the real message across. What if we could talk to the other drivers? Like 'Back off, bozo, you're tail-gating'? Or 'Your lights aren't on'?"

Stephen grinned. Quite a few people murmured sympathetic comments around wanting to do just that: talk to other drivers. The buzz grew as people compared 'war stories' around driving.

Dave watched the excitement grow over Chuck's idea. Pretty soon, comments were made about how to launch the project. Without returning to the board and vetting the other ideas, momentum was growing towards the driver talking board. Stephen was excited, seeing the company expand into the consumer market. He seemed to already be counting the cover stories, maybe equalling the number garnered for Apple computer products.

"I think we've got consensus. We'll draft the project plan, beginning with the feasibility study. That shouldn't take too long. Wouldn't everyone like to talk to other drivers?" Stephen concluded. That was the end of the strategy session, and it caused the end of the company. It was started down a path that turned out to be like the emperor's new clothes: no substance for the massive capital and political investment, and everyone afraid to say so.

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