Seeing more of the infinite outcomes
The future judgment by the pundits about the outcome of Mr. Zuckerberg’s bet on WhatsApp will be wrong in the same sense that it is wrong to say playing Russian roulette is a good decision if it has a good outcome.
The outcome was not only to resolve the classic conflict of top-management stretch goals versus product-management practicality. It was also to preclude the equally classic conflict that comes later, the one about underperforming versus overexpecting.
Strategists commonly analyze best-case, worst-case, and most-likely scenarios before making a significant strategy decision. That covers about 0.000007618% of the possibilities. I’m not making up that number.
Our first surprise suggests that we don’t ask questions that might help us predict competitors. Our second surprise suggests that our competitors may not be so easy to predict, unless the slate isn’t clean, jobs aren’t safe, issues aren’t clear, and tradition is binding.
A year from now, more or less, people will be writing stories about those prescient strategists who found opportunity and led their companies to glory. Those stories will also mention the companies desperately scrambling to catch up. Those stories will be about decisions and actions begun now.
It is, of course, good news for Yahoo that new CEO Carol Bartz is a capable person working hard to turn the company around. It is worth asking, though, whether a turnaround is even possible. Is there only room for one major search engine?
We hear a variety of conditions being proposed to accompany an auto-industry bailout: limits on executive pay, change in management, financial oversight. All sound suitably stern. Each of those conditions is a solution to a perceived problem. Does solving those problems solve the real problem?
What to “do about” the Detroit Three is, deservedly, front-page news. I recommend that Congress and the industry commission business war games on behalf of the industry, the workers, the government, and we the people. Now is the time to look forward.
This essay starts with a shocking pricing tournament and proceeds to the challenges faced by President-elect Obama and the titans of industry. All of us are human and so all of us will be wrong. What’s important is when we make our mistakes.
Whether we’re talking about the troubles of the Detroit Three or the Republican Two, it’s easy to blame the perfect storm of energy prices, financial crisis, and tough competition. But although the perfect storm may have accelerated their decline, it didn’t cause their vulnerability.