Getting away from TINA …
Even when people don’t actually use the mantra of TINA – “there is no alternative” – in strategic decision making, very often it permeates the thinking of management teams. Something has happened out there in your strategic environment, some competitor has stolen a march on you, or some new innovation has come along and it’s often as if management teams are transfixed by the new situation and can only respond with a knee jerk reaction. And once that immediate and obvious response to what is perceived as the immediate threat is on the table, it morphs into Tina and is very hard to displace from front of mind.
There are lots of problems with this, not least that the Tina syndrome almost always involves reacting to symptoms of a strategic issue rather than understanding what is really going on in your strategic environment. But as well as that, one thing we know about decision making is that having multiple options increases the quality of the thinking and the quality of the decision. Tina actually equals no decision, or at least no choice.
Sometimes, if you employ a conventional strategy consultancy, they will appear to counter this problem by playing the “goldilocks trick” on you. This is one of their most commonly used sleight of hand tricks and involves offering what appears to be 3 strategic options – the right answer is always the one in the middle and the other two “too hot” and “too cold” are there to reassure you that you have actually had a choice (which you didn’t really) and to point to the “just right” answer in the middle.
Quite often with strategy teams there is a reluctance to develop more than one genuine strategic option because “that would take too long and we just don’t have time.”
Conscious of the “takes too long” excuse, we did a time trial on strategic options development using the Patterns of Strategy approach.
We were asked by a strategy team to help broaden their range of strategic options as they were concerned that … you guessed it … three with one obvious front runner wasn’t enough. Now we knew the team and the company and the strategic situation, so we weren’t coming to this blind, but the time trial was around how long it would take to develop a credible and useful set of options.
So, our first question was what sort of strategy did they need – was to defend their current market position? Was it to grow? Was it to shift markets? Was it to collaborate? What type of strategy did they need? And immediately it was apparent that NO single strategic option would do. They needed a strategy to help shore up a threatened position in a threaten sector, they also needed a strategy to grow and a strategy to break out of their existing sector in case that collapsed.
We took the 100 strategies in our list of repeated Patterns and just went through them, applying three tests to each: could it solve part of their strategic problem? Did it extend the range of ambition available? and was it doable for them?
We came out with a list of 25 strategic options: some defensive to shore up the existing position and buy time, some to win in the existing market, some to win in alternative markets. And within each of those three domains, there was a range of ambition, from low risk / low reward strategies to high risk / 10x growth strategies. Several likely looking strategies failed to pass the “doable” category for this team, either for reasons of capability or culture.
In terms of the time trial, this options generation process took just over an hour – including working out what each of the generic strategies might look like for them. In fact it took longer to write up the findings than it took to generate the options. In terms of utility, the CEO described it as “one of the clearest and most profound things I’ve learned from Fractal,” so rich insight can be delivered really fast, and the multiple options increased the quality of the thinking.