My wife and I are coming to terms with the fact that we are staring down the barrel of the end of a two year tour of duty for work that has taken us from Chicago to Southern California. We don’t have to go back, but there are compelling reasons for us to do so (finances, friends, family, educational system, etc.). We don’t have to stay, but there are compelling reasons to do so (opportunity, adventure, new friends, climate, etc.). In fact, the choice is completely ours – with some minor dependencies – and that makes the decision even more difficult. So, at this point, the decision is completely strategic. All options are open to us and it’s a matter of deciding what it is we want to do.
When thinking strategically (or coaching others to do so) the most difficult task is to get people away from the everyday thinking. To get away from the demands at the client site, or pressure for financial resources, or that thing that seems like it’s the perfect solution, or a million other reasons to do what you feel like you have to. The fact is: demands change quickly, new financial sources can be tapped, the perfect solution today will be partially obsolete by the time you implement it… The point is to think beyond the next success to greater alignment with your ultimate goals.
We can learn something from the world of Physics here.
Back in 1935, Erwin Shrodinger proposed a thought experiment as a sort of parable to examine strange behaviors being proposed in the realm of Quantum Mechanics. In his experiment, a cat is sealed in a box with a radioactivity-powered random generator. Depending on the results of the random generation, a lethal event will happen to the cat. Shrodinger proposed that, until you opened the box, there was no way of determining whether or not the cat was dead so, therefore, you had to assume that the cat was both alive and dead. This superposition of contradictory states helps in the discussion of some contradictory states that occur in unison in the world of Quantum Physics.
In the world of strategic thinking, it is useful for playing out and comparing two mutually-exclusive decisions.
In the example of the return to Chicago, it is all too easy to assume that one of the decisions is the “right” decision (i.e. “Because our family wants us back in Chicago, that is the right thing to do.”). Unfortunately, when you do that, you will choose evidence to support that thinking. You will start to see the other decision as an affront to your family. However, you may miss some nuance of the other decision that allows for the benefits while solving the family requirement to everyone’s satisfaction.
So, in the example of the relocation back to Chicago, our decision exists in a state of superposition; we are both staying and returning to Chicago until we finally have to crack that box and check on the health of our strategic feline. This allow us to continue looking for ways to make either decision optimal. Deciding too early which decision is the right decision prevents us from finding ways to make each option the best it can be.
Likewise, in business, agendas become ineffectual surrogates for strategic thinking. I suggest you let those two or three decisions live on as possibilities while you try to make them the best possible solution, only cracking the box to see which decision is correct when you need to. Note: this only works if you can narrow the field of options to a manageable handful. Too many options is the opposite problem but leads to the same effect – you are incapable of defining any of them to a degree that it becomes obvious whether the cat is alive or dead.
So… To be strategically effective you must create a finite pool of the most likely options, allow them all to exist as viable in superposition, work to make each the best possible incarnation of that solution, and crack the box open at the point when you are required to do so. This allows you to fully explore the possibilities and make the most effective decisions.