Business Strategy: Preparing for the Unexpected in Business

If you take long enough bike rides, you’ll 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.

Imagine my chagrin when I 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, “It takes up room and besides, I’ve never had to use it.” At that moment, I could probably focus on her beauty, creativity and insight, but I don’t. I remind her that Captain Sullenberger had never needed to use his water landing skills before ditching 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 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 Boeing™, 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 — perhaps as low as the economy imploding or a massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico — the payoff could be lifesaving.

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of, Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be(Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email [email protected].

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