The unexamined life is not worth living. -Socrates
The unlived life is not worth examining. -Sheldon Kopp
After 60+ years of bumping through life I subscribe 100% to the latter quote. If you haven’t embraced a life of stretching outside your comfort zone, choosing risk rather than certainty, loved even though it hurt, took the road less travelled, then there’s not much to examine. We don’t learn much about ourselves or others by playing it safe or taking the easy way out. You can’t build muscles unless you confront weight resistance and you can’t build experience or capability unless you embrace the resistance and challenges of life.
There is a term I like to use for this type of behaviour (some would say it’s reckless). The term I use is “heuristic“. In the classical definition, a heuristic is a mental or method shortcut that allows one to quickly make judgements or solve problems. In other words, a heuristic shortcut is an educated guess or set of hypotheses used to quickly attack a problem. The approach taken may not be totally correct or precise, but in applying a heuristic shortcut one engages with the problem quickly, get a small amount of insight about the problem, which adds to our knowledge base and allows us to formulate an even better approach. Successive applications of a heuristic shortcut, each one more informed than the last, quickly allows us to zero in on the solution. While an algorithm is precise, a heuristic is approximate. Sort of like “fuzzy logic“.
The lesson for me in the above is that by engaging in life fully, even though I don’t know fully what I’m getting into, I “learn as I go”. In other words, through direct experience I gain insight and (hopefully) some wisdom faster than if I sat around and studied all the options, risks and possible approaches.
“Action often leads to results, even if I don’t know what I am doing!”
I believe the same is true as an approach to effective strategy execution. First of all, there is no perfect strategy. All strategy is based on assumptions and besides, as soon as that great strategy is formulated, the business world changes, new competitors emerge, technology takes a leap forward, and the game changes. So rather than opt for crafting the perfect strategy with massive analysis, detailed spreadsheets and mountains of market intelligence, get it 80% good then get on with executing.
As soon as you get out in the market place and start executing on your strategic initiatives you immediately begin learning what works and what doesn’t. Now you can use that insight and learning to improve and refine your strategy. Then get back out in the marketplace and learn some more, refine some more, etc. I call this using “strategic incrementalism” rather than trying to achieve strategic perfection up front. Your strategy is now heuristic and you are fully engaged with your market and your customers.
“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
Thanks for joining the dialogue.
John R Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
PS: John also writes thriller novels