Be ready for flat tires

Todd Ordal //April 21, 2011//

Be ready for flat tires

Todd Ordal //April 21, 2011//

The spring weather has caused me to think more of biking than skiing. In fact I’ve already ridden enough to have several flat tires. If you take long enough bike rides, you’ll eventually encounter multiple flat tires on a single ride. It’s happened to me several times.

Flat tires aren’t hard to fix, but you need to be prepared. The benefits of carrying a spare tube, a couple of patches and a pump far outweigh the consequences of being stranded in the rain with looming darkness.

With my “be prepared” mindset, you can imagine my chagrin when I frequently find the emergency kit from my wife’s car on the floor of the garage. I put it back in her car. She takes it out. I put it back in. She takes it out. When I ask her why she takes it out, she says, “I’ve never had to use it.”

I remind her that Captain Sullenberger had never needed to use his water landing skills before ditching his airplane in the Hudson River, but she doesn’t appreciate the hyperbole. (While I believe that her Boy Scout skills are sorely lacking, she’s probably thought this through and would rather call me to fix the problem – so who’s really more prepared?)

In a further effort to change her mind, I ask, “Aren’t you glad our son was well-trained by the Marines before he went to Iraq?” “Don’t be dramatic,” she says, “I’m not going to get shot.” I don’t seem to be winning this argument, so the emergency kit sits on the floor of the garage. However, I still carry a spare tube and patches for my bike.

Your business requires you to think about the future; maybe multiple futures. What kind of flat tires might you encounter? You can’t anticipate everything. Committing to a particular course of action is often the only way to use limited resources.

If you’re BoeingTM, for example, you must commit huge investments of time and money to a new aircraft. Imagine the executives saying, “We can’t decide which of these five aircraft will sell well, so we’re going to build them all!” Most businesses have neither that level of investment required nor the lengthy time horizon required to develop a new product.

Strategic thinking should be primarily about offense, not defense. But consider multiple scenarios so you can respond when the future brings you flat tires. “Prepared minds” is a highly valid objective for strategic thinking.

Engaging your team in a semi-annual conversation to discuss alternative views of the future isn’t much more work than simulating water landings in a commercial aircraft. While the probability of having to land in the water is very low – as low as the economy imploding or a massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico or a nuclear disaster in Japan – the payoff could be life-saving.

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