Category Archives: Strategic Planning

Yahtzee Lessons

I was probably seven when Grandma Anne taught me to play Yahtzee.  I’d spend the night at her house with my cousin, Devin, and invariably, we’d be at her kitchen table, playing Yahtzee all afternoon.

It’s a simple game…on the surface.

Each player gets thirteen turns to complete their score card.

The top section of the score card consists of numbers 1 thru 6.  You need to roll three ones, three twos, three threes, etc. to get your “minimums.”  You could also roll four fives (or four of anything), which comes in handy if you were only able to roll two threes on a previous turn.  The idea on the top section is to score at least 63 total points, so you can get the 35-point bonus.

Yahtzee! scores 50 points.  That’s when you get all five dice to be the same during your turn.  Some players focus solely on getting Yahtzee at the expense of everything else.  The theory being that 50 points is huge, and if you get a second Yahtzee that one’s worth 100.  Of course, the odds of getting a Yahtzee are against you, but the payoff is big when it happens.

Grandma was always clear that while a Yahtzee is nice, the most consistent winning strategy is to get your bonus on the top section.  Rely on those 35 points as your foundation.  A Yahtzee, or a big four-of-a-kind on the bottom section of the score card would be icing on the cake.

Relying on the foundational 35 and less on the Yahtzee probably explains many of the best decisions I’ve made in life.

Each turn, you roll five dice to start.  You get two more rolls in your turn.  Depending on what the dice show after your first roll, you may not need to take those additional rolls.  Life is good when you roll a complete large straight or a Yahtzee on your first roll!

The bottom section of the score card has three-of-a-kind, four-of-a-kind, full house, small straight, large straight, Yahtzee! and Chance.

Chance comes into play when you’re rolling for something that doesn’t happen.  Like, you already have your small straight, and now you’re rolling to complete a large straight.  Unfortunately, that last number doesn’t come up.  You count-up the total of all the dice and enter that number into Chance.

Chance is a lot like a mulligan in golf.  A do-over.  In this case, you get to capture some points even though the rolls failed to produce.  They say there are no do-over’s in life, but I disagree.  There are plenty of second chances, if you’re willing to ask for forgiveness (mostly from yourself), learn from your mistake(s) (hopefully), and try again.

How often do three sixes come up in a roll?  How likely is it that you’ll be able to roll that one specific number you need to complete your straight or full house?  When you’ve used up your Chance spot, and your rolls have led to nothing, which slot are you willing to sacrifice to end this turn?  Odds and decisions.

Yahtzee seems like a game of chance.  It’s much more.  It’s a game of decisions and imperfect trade-offs.

After a while, we graduated to playing Triple Yahtzee, which entails playing three games simultaneously.  You get 39 turns.  One column is worth triple points, one is double points, and the last column is regular points.

The decisions and trade-offs from the “Single Yahtzee” game are in play, but now you want to maximize the point values in your triple column and consider sacrificing some of the slots in the regular column.

Don’t be fooled.  Mastering Triple Yahtzee isn’t just triple the challenge.  As in real life, something that should be only triple the challenge is often exponentially more challenging than it first appears.

What is the answer to all this exponential chaos?  Methodical effort and focused strategy.  The priorities and the strategy are defined.  The decisions that follow from these priorities become clear.  Maybe even simple.

There’s a certain genius in showing a seven-year-old the game of Yahtzee.  They haven’t fully formed their approach to decision making.  Success, failure, decisions, and sacrifices are in play with every turn.  Excellent practice for the real thing.

Yahtzee illustrates how something completely random and driven by chance can be managed within a solid set of priorities and strategies.

I didn’t just get to learn about rolling dice, counting numbers, and making decisions.  Grandma gave me the gift of lasting memories that I cherish to this day, playing Yahtzee at her kitchen table.

Now that I have six (!) grandkids of my own, I can’t wait to teach them the game of Yahtzee…and then, Triple Yahtzee!

Photo by Lea Böhm on Unsplash

 

 

Are You Really Outside Your Comfort Zone?

ComfortZone

In the 80’s, the message was, “Dress for Success.”  Dress at least one level up, make a great impression, get promoted.  The concept focused on impressing the gatekeeper (your boss, or your boss’s boss), moving up, achieving success.  “Upwardly mobile” was a phrase people used to describe themselves.  Inherent in this approach was the thought that your success was dictated by how far up you climbed in one organization.

In the 90’s, the message was, “Be nimble, move fast, deliver quality.”  Tom Peters really came into focus in the 90’s with his thoughts on the “nanosecond” 90’s.  Big companies needed to find ways to “bob and weave,” to adjust to the ever-changing market dynamics.  We all searched for ways to shift paradigms, boost quality, and invent new ways of streamlining processes.

One by-product of this nimble and fast-moving behavior was rapid employee movement.  Corporate downsizing, upsizing, and reorganizations, along with an even faster corporate merger and acquisition pace, made remaining in one organization for a lifetime as remote as winning the lottery.

Dress for Success was out.  Upward mobility was out.  The era of the entrepreneur was upon us (even though it had been with us since the dawn of civilization).  The corporate version, the “intrapreneur,” became a big thing.  This was the person in the meeting who was slightly quirky, a bit edgy and imaginative, and didn’t mind “poking the bear” a bit.  He or she operated with a flair that the corporate mindset both embraced and slightly feared.  This was the person that would help the corporation remain relevant in the face of fast-moving competition, but might upset the apple cart along the way.

Somewhere in the late 90’s or early 2,000’s I started hearing that we should “think outside the box.”  “Think Different” became Apple’s calling card.  It was only that type of thinking that would yield meaningful results.  Anything else was just window dressing, or “lipstick on a pig.”  Look at the top 10 companies in terms of market value (both public and private) and it’s hard to argue with this sentiment.

But, even those “renegade” companies struggle to stay “different” over the long term.  What once seemed new, even revolutionary, becomes the new norm.  Soon, there’s a clamor for the next version, the new invention, the new product, the next “thing.”

What’s the answer to all of this?  Organizations and entrepreneurs try to operate “outside of their comfort zone.”  Yeah!  That’s the ticket.  If we can get everyone pushing outside their comfort zone, maybe that will result in something different, and cajole some new ideas into fruition.

But, the truth is that none of us like it outside our comfort zone.  Most companies and shareholders prefer their comfort zone as well.

We constantly seek our comfort zone, even as we talk about pushing ourselves outside of it.  If we happen to venture out and actually operate for a while in the hinterlands, our deep subconscious goal is to regain our footing, by seeking approval or acceptance of our crazy ideas back in the comfort zone.

We may get used to operating in a new zone and call that our new comfort zone…but, it’s still our (new) comfort zone.  This is one definition of progress.

People have varying perspectives on what’s comfortable.  The free climber is happiest and most “alive” when climbing a 3,000-foot rock face without ropes.  Another person’s comfort zone is speaking in front of a large audience.  Still another person’s idea of comfort is analyzing reams of financial data about the performance of their company.

What is your comfort zone?  When are you the most at ease?

What are you doing to operate outside that zone?

When you find yourself outside your comfort zone, what’s your goal?  To return to the safety of the comfort zone, or to extend your reach to an even more uncomfortable spot?

Look closely and be honest with yourself.  You’re probably spending most of your time inside your comfort zone or trying to find your way back there.

It’s up to you to determine whether this is okay, or not.

 

 

 

 

 

Later…

Later creates room for compromises.

Later lives for tomorrow.

Later keeps lists.

Later allows us to avoid.

Later tells us why we’re preparing.

Later delays forgiveness.

Later is born from hope.

Later connects without really connecting.

Later captures what we imagine.

We often try to create what happens later by our actions today.

Later provides direction.

Later reduces today’s expectations.

Later can hijack the present.

Later is the carrier of our dreams.

Later gains power when it remains vague.

Later simplifies execution.

Later is where many careers will find their stride.

Later is where the craziest ideas go to die.

Later tells us it’s okay to delay.

Later is where big ideas find their future.

Later makes it okay to add complexity.

Later drags us reluctantly forward.

Later makes today easier.

Later makes today harder.

Later isn’t guaranteed.  It can easily turn into never if we allow it.

Later only matters in the present. By the time we get to later, there’s a new later that will once again seem more important than our new present.

There’s more to say on this subject.  I’ll probably get to it later…

The Puzzles We Build

 

jigsaw-puzzle_pieces

When was the last time you assembled a puzzle?

Did you do it yourself, or did you have help?

How long did it take to assemble?  Minutes?  Hours?  Days?

In our house, whenever we started a puzzle, it was an “all-hands-on-deck” affair.  We’d all start working it.  Some of us would focus on organizing the pieces to make them visible.  Others would dive right in and start putting pieces together.

I worked the edges.  It’s the only thing that helped me get my bearings on the puzzle.  Start with the flat sides and establish a border…then work into the middle.  Working from the middle, out, was way too random for me.

“Hey, does anyone want some hot chocolate?” always seemed like a good question for me to ask after about a half-hour of diligent work.  With marshmallows.  Without looking up, I’d get some slow yesses and a few grunts.  By the time I came back with the hot chocolate, I was always amazed at the progress.

I’d get back to working the edges.

Each of us had our specialty and our own pace.  Some of us were easily distracted (me).  My wife would stay focused for hours…one piece at a time.

“Hey, who’s up for a break from the puzzle?  Maybe we can hit it again in a couple of hours with fresh eyes.”  I was always a proponent of fresh eyes.

But, then we’d get most of the edges completed.  I’d get my own personal rhythm, and I could start to see the patterns.  The puzzle started to take shape.  First, in my mind and then on the table.  My perspective on the puzzle and my ability to add value to it changed as the image emerged from all the pieces.

I don’t know if my wife and daughters (or anyone else who’d stop by and get sucked into the assembly project) went through the same evolution in their perspective as I did.

Our latest puzzle is a new business (actually, an existing business that we recently purchased).  Once again, our family is building a puzzle together.  This time, it’s not at the dining room table with a clear picture of the final product.  In fact, new pieces are being added to this puzzle all the time.

Once again, we’re each approaching the puzzle in our own way.  Center-out.  Edges-in.

Distractions?  Definitely.

Is an image beginning to emerge?  Yes.

The best (and most challenging) aspect of this puzzle is that it’s never finished.  It grows and evolves.  It occasionally leaves us feeling a bit perplexed.  But, it also takes beautiful shape before our eyes as we continue to build, one piece at a time.

Anyone up for some hot chocolate?  We’re gonna be here a while!

 

 

The Obstacles You Think You Know…Don’t Matter

Polynomial Function

I used to hear one question a lot when I was a kid.

Whether an adult was asking me, or another kid my age, it was always the same:

What are you going to be when you grow up?

In second grade, I knew I wanted to be a doctor.  My friend wanted to be a fireman.  Another friend wanted to be a professional skateboarder.

By high school, I was still thinking doctor, or maybe veterinarian.  One of my friends planned to be an engineer, another wanted to teach, and one planned to go to the Air Force Academy and become a fighter pilot (he just retired from the Air Force a few years ago).

In my senior year in high school I ran into Algebra 2.  More specifically, factoring polynomials.  FOIL method.  Up to that point, math had made sense.  Plug the numbers into the formulas, and get your answer.  X equals 11, Y equals 9.  Pythagorean Theorem?  Piece of cake.  Word problems?  Easy.

But, polynomials made no sense.  The magic of the FOIL method didn’t help.  First, Outside, Inside, Last?  Solving for multiple variables that cancel each other out in some mysterious way?  Arriving at an answer that looks as cryptic as the original question?  What does a polynomial look like if you draw one?  When will we ever use this in real life?  I’d say it was all Greek to me, but I didn’t know Greek either, or Latin.

I hadn’t even reached Calculus (the math all the other brainiacs were taking in their senior year), and I’d hit a wall.

Polynomial Example

I could see the handwriting on the chalkboard (teachers used to write on them before whiteboards were invented).  To become a doctor would require a science degree of some kind.  That science degree would require a ton of math well beyond polynomials…maybe even Calculus.  What comes after Calculus?!  And, what about Latin?  Doctors all seemed to use Latin.  How would I learn that?  It wasn’t even offered at my high school.  And, what about getting into medical school?  Did I have eight years to give up?  How would I pay for all of it?  This was going to be hard!

We each have a strategic thinking instinct.  The ability to prioritize, make deductions, create connections, and map out a direction.  Or, multiple directions.

Unfortunately, more often than not, we either ignore our strategic thinking capability, or we use it to map out why something is impossible.  We visualize all the obstacles while ignoring the path around, over, or through them.  We neatly stack all the obstacles into an impenetrable wall, rather than a series of hurdles to be taken one-at-a-time.

My doctor plans went down in flames…but, I was the one pointing the metaphorical plane into the ground.

Could I have found a way to understand polynomials?  Yes.  Could I have dealt with Calculus?  Yes.  What about Latin?  Yes.  What about getting into medical school?  Yes.  Did I have what it took to become a doctor?  Probably (we will never know).

Did I allow myself to realize any of this at the time?  No.  I was too busy jumping toward another goal that had fewer obstacles, or so I thought.  One that didn’t require Calculus.  One that I could get my head around, and see more clearly.

I now understand something I didn’t back when I was a high school senior.  I’m not sure I understood it by the time I was a college senior either.  Our biggest obstacle, the one that matters more than any of the obstacles we can see, the obstacle that trumps all others, is staring back at us in the mirror.  Find your way around, over, or through yourself, and you are well on your way to overcoming almost any other obstacle in your path…maybe even polynomials.

Want the answer to the crazy equation?  This might (or might not) be it

 

 

Photo Credits:  Here and Here

 

If I knew then what I know now…

How often have you heard this phrase, or uttered it yourself?

Imagine if you could attain all of your life’s accumulated knowledge, wisdom, and experience in one day. All of life’s hard lessons in the blink of an eye. You wouldn’t know the future. But, you’d have the wisdom from that future, today.

Imagine knowing the mistakes to avoid, the real questions to ask, how to recognize the best path, the secret about how green the grass really is “over there.”    

Hindsight is 20/20, but the clarity of the past doesn’t always point to the future. Many of history’s greatest triumphs came from someone taking the “wrong path,” or exploring the idea that conventional wisdom says can’t work.

Failures will happen along the way. Having all of life’s wisdom won’t prevent them. Some of our greatest lessons come from failure…ours or someone else’s. Life’s wisdom is valuable, but having it all at once takes away the drive to chase the crazy idea, or make the big hairy mistakes that lead to new discoveries.    

The truth about life is that its truths reveal themselves one at a time. The best path to take is the one that continually seeks these truths, and welcomes their arrival.

The Most Important Strategy Presentation You’ll Ever Make

You’ve figured out how to ask real strategic questions .  You and your team have used those strategic questions to layout your strategy for next month, next year, maybe even the year after that.

You’re working on the big strategy presentation for your boss, and his boss.  You have 30-45 minutes to present.  It has to be perfect.  Your PowerPoint slides need to be crisp, concise, and informative.  Most of all, they must smoothly convey the sheer mastery of your team’s strategy.

You rehearse with your management team.  You adjust and tweak each word, each number, and every bullet point on your slides.  You gather as much supporting information as you can to support your conclusions.  You write out every question you can anticipate, and make sure you have a clear and effective response for each one.  You are ready.

Your company’s dress code is business casual, but it’s tradition that you wear a coat and tie for these annual strategy presentations.  Your preparation pays off.  You deliver a brilliant strategy presentation.  There are a few questions thrown your way, but you’ve anticipated every one of them.  Your boss, and his boss, are clearly impressed and excited to offer their support for your strategy.

You gather your team for a short post-presentation update meeting.  You congratulate your team for all of the work they’ve done on the presentation.  High fives all around!

Was this the most important strategy presentation you’ll ever make?  It probably seemed like it, with all of the hard work and sleepless nights that went into it.  But, it definitely wasn’t the most important.

Having your manager’s support for your strategy is a big deal.  But, your manager, and his manager, won’t do much to help you deliver on the brilliant strategic vision you and your team have laid out.

Remember all the time and energy that went into your perfect presentation?  Imagine if you spent even half of that time and energy preparing for, and presenting to, your customers and your employees.

The most important strategy presentation you’ll ever make is to the people who will deliver on your strategy…your customers, your direct reports, and everyone who works within your organization.

It’s not a one-time event that lasts 30-45 minutes.  It’s a never-ending conversation that should be happening with your customers, and across all levels of your organization…every day.

Are You Asking Strategic Questions?

It’s strategic planning season.  Companies of all shapes and sizes are dusting off their strategic plans from last year, looking into their crystal balls and determining what they’re going to do next year.  How can we extend our products or services within our marketplace?  What will it take for us to keep up (catch up) with our competition?  How can we squeeze an extra point of profitability from our existing revenue streams?  Can we raise our prices a few percentage points without losing too many customers?  Do we need this many people?

If the previous paragraph sounds familiar, your organization isn’t doing strategic planning.

Strategic planning isn’t just an annual event.  Strategic questions don’t come from a defensive posture.  They shouldn’t be about tweaking at the margin.  Strategic questions definitely shouldn’t focus on ways to play “catch up.”  These questions may be important, but they aren’t strategic.  They’re tactical.

If your company stopped delivering its products and services, who would miss it?

What do your customers, or prospective customers, really want?  What are they trying to accomplish?  Your organization’s value comes from helping customers hit their strategic targets.  Otherwise, you’re merely a commodity, a convenience to be discarded whenever possible.

Many organizations fool themselves into believing they do strategic planning.  Sadly, they’re only going through the motions, “challenging themselves” to answer the easy, tactical questions…year after year.

That is, until their customers find another way to meet their strategic goals.