Do not be disappointed and disheartened. Do not allow yourself to despair, fall down and lose your focus because of the mess you are seeing. You do not have the luxury of losing your clarity of vision and your energy. Glance at the negatives, but focus on the positives. Wherever you put your attention that is where your attention will go. Be obsessed with your vision and not the mess. See what is not working, but work on what makes things work. Feel the fear if you have to, but do not be immobilised and lose your urge for positive action. It is when dark clouds of negativity hang low that your faith, and focus must soar. Whatever the mess, there is a message in the mess. Choose the music that you dance to.
The core message of the law of diminishing returns is that if you keep doing what you have always been doing, you will keep getting less than you got the last time. The mess is always a message that something has stopped working or it is not sustainable. Doing what does not work will not make it work. Saving what is no longer relevant will not make it relevant. Fighting a war that has been lost will not increase the odds of winning. Heed the message in your mess: “Is what I am doing sustainable?”
When you heed the sustainability message you position yourself for resilience. Resilience is the power to be energised and elevated by the mess. It is the internal fortitude to look at the mess, go through the mess and emerge stronger and even more effective.
What worked in the past will not always work in the future. Stop being obsessed with the past and be inspired by an energising vision of the future.
It is when we look back that at times we start to see more clearly the journey. Some people say that hindsight is “20 over 20” vision. This means that when you look back, you pass the vision test. However passing the vision test is not enough when facing a mess. You have to heed the sensibility message of the mess: “Is what I am doing sensible.” It is not what we do that matters, or how much we defend it.
The best way to administer the sensibility message is to look at whatever you are doing through the so-called ‘Dakota Indian Wisdom’. The Wisdom of the native Dakota American-Indians that they have passed from generation to generation is: “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.” The sensible thing when riding a dead horse is to be sensible enough get off the dead horse.
However it has been proved that in organisations of every kind people do meetings, set up committees, spend resources, do extensive documents and other initiatives bar the sensible thing when you are facing a mess. They recommend buying a stronger whip to help put the horse into line. They change riders and look for riders that are more loyal and have better experience. They consider appointing a committee to study the horse and why it is behaving in the manner that it does. They arrange to visit other countries or organisations to see how other organisations and cultures ride horses. They lower the standards so that dead horses can be included. They reclassify the dead horse as living-impaired. They take clever and more modern initiatives that are keeping with the times and seasons. They refuse to be deterred and to hear anything negative. They urge keeping positive and keeping hope alive.
They keep their initiative in the mess alive by hiring outside contractors and consultants to ride the dead horse. They harness several dead horses together to increase horse-power, speed and traction. They provide additional funding and a budget for training to increase dead horse’s performance. They stop at nothing and they remain focused in their mission. They hire motivational speakers to motivate the riders of the dead horse. They also do a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance. They also manage effectively their costs and stakeholders by declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses. They also rewrite the expected performance requirements for all horses.
After all has been done and there is not much more to say, the wisdom of the mess is that doing what is not sensible will not make it sensible. Check your mess carefully, it may be a message to quit doing what is not sensible. There is no high dead horse that will go anywhere and time does not change much.
Strategy is not just a voluminous document that is kept in secret and better still locked in a cabinet to ensure that it is safe. Strategy is a way of thinking and acting. It is a game plan. It is a way to play, a way to win and a playbook for winning. Stop wishing for luck and be strategic. The battle field is always a mess and it is in the mess that strategic thinking is most required. Whatever mess you find yourself in, it can benefit from strategic thinking and the rules of strategic warfare. Here are some strategic rules for thinking through the mess and its message:
1. Define the theatre of war. You have to be clear where you intend to play and what the arena is. If you do not know where the war is being waged you will just add to the mess. You have to be clear what winning means to you. Your definition of greatness will define your strategy. The first step in any battle is to define the end state.
2. Choose your opponents before they choose you. You have to define who you are up against. Thrashing your resources everywhere will just leave you in a worse mess. Be ready for retaliation and you can not try foul when your opponent reacts and retaliates. Strategy means that you think about both the offence and defence simultaneously. Fighting everyone always leaves you in a mess.
3. Do not start wars that you cannot win. Do not start fights that you are not equipped to engage in. Study your mess carefully. Do not start wars on so many fronts that you get confused and in a mess. The message in any mess is that you have to be strategic, intentional and deliberate.
4. Never start a war without weapons and without information. Hope is not a strategy. Information is a powerful asset and weapon. Going to fight without equipment is irresponsible. Never think that because you are planning your opponent is not planning. General George S. Patton said it best: “I’ve studied the enemy all my life. I studied, in detail, the account of every one of his battles. I’ve even read his philosophers and I’ve listened to his music. I know exactly how he’ll behave under any set of circumstances. Unfortunately, he hasn’t the slightest idea of what I’m going to do, so when the time comes, I’m going to whip the hell out of him.” When you confront any mess, have a clear mind and a clear message. Study your mess and you will see pockets of positive messages.
5. Never go to war with a one step plan. Time spent in planning is never time wasted. Get information, be informed. Be willing to adapt. Every mess will always test your adaptive capacity. The biggest threat in any mess is a fuzzy vision and a shallow strategy.
Messy times are never times to stop strategic thinking. They are the times to intensify strategic conversations. Every mess has a strategic message. Entrepreneurs and innovators fish in troubled and messy waters. It is when things look turbulent that you must strategically fish. In messy waters opportunities are abundant. What is important is how you think and what you see.
Committed to your greatness.