Monday, November 1, 2010

Sustainable Strategies 101

Among the most overused words in the business world today is "sustainable." Companies claim that their technologies, communications, even their energy sources are sustainable. It's pretty apparent to most of us that this is merely buzzword bingo and has no actual relationship to sustaining anything except profits.

But when we're starting fresh, sustainability is something we can actually bake into a strategy to allow for changes over time. Here are a few broad topics to consider in order to create a truly sustainable strategy.

Everything Changes

You will create your strategy with an eye to the current state of your industry and, perhaps, a recognition of recent past circumstances. You will understand what your competitors are doing and what you are doing that works and doesn't and all of that will be rooted in your *now.*

There is a famous saying to the effect that no military strategy survives the moment it's taken onto the actual battlefield, and the same is totally true of business strategies. Consumers will not react the way you want them to, a natural disaster in a different part of the world will set off a series of events that effect your business, etc, etc.

Take into account the possible changes, both positive and negative, to allow you freedom to move in an ever-changing world.

Your Mileage May Vary

We all weigh all circumstances in the scales of our own experience. It's useful to walk in someone else's shoes in order to understand different impact of that same set of circumstances. It's easy to take a position that your view is correct, but in order to create a sustainable strategy, you should remember that it is correct for you and may in fact not fit all situations.

Only You Can Change Your Mind

A business strategy is remarkably similar to an opinion. You THINK things are this way and, based on your professional opinion, they are likely to turn out that way if these certain things are done or not done. It's true that some arguments have better data to back them up than others, but invalidating other people's sources is tantamount to taking a fixed, inflexible position. The data you're using is as biased as the data they are using. There is really no such thing as truly unbiased data. Step away from your attachment to a particular source and search more widely. Look for dissenting opinions to understand the perspectives of people who disagree that your strategy will work or not to find the weaknesses in your viewpoint. Shoring up the weak points will provide you with a more sustainable position.

So...what's the trick to creating a sustainable strategy? Flexibility.

A strong, sustainable strategy contains the best understanding from every perspective of a situation and options and alternatives for varying circumstances. Allow for dissenting positions, learn from them and see what that new information can bring to your table. A strategy based on an inflexible set of criteria is doomed, as your industry and the industries around it will constantly flux and shift. Knowing what your nay-sayers say and understanding why they are saying it, will be far more useful than simply dismissing them out of hand. Plan for failure when you are succeeding and success when you are failing.

The more flexibility you build into your strategy, the more likely you are to be able to weather the ups and downs of business and the more sustainable your strategy will be.
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