That’s a Wrap

That’s a Wrap: Why we had 2008, getting up in the morning, and holiday cards, by Mark Chussil

Remember that the tough problem a year ago was where to buy a Nintendo Wii?

Many of the events of 2008, great and small, good and bad, can be recalled through single words. Obama. Melamine. Madoff. Lehman. Gaza. Zimbabwe. Bailout. Layoff. Bankrupt. Climate. Oil. Blu-ray. Foreclosure. Olympics. Palin. Earthquake. Discount. Mumbai. Newman. Subprime. Pirates. Green. Add. Your. Own.

And what do those words have to do with the world’s most fascinating and thoughtful blog about strategic thinking and competitive strategy?

Not that the world is unpredictable and chaotic and capricious and we’re all doomed and what’s the use of strategy nothing matters just make the numbers yes I will have another martini.

Not that the world is glorious and we are witnessing creative destruction and markets are working and get out of the way here we come oops sorry about the unavoidable collateral damage.

Not that current events are temporary (they always are) and we will soon have the “return to normalcy” that presidential candidate Warren G. Harding promised in 1920. (We do notice, however, that there is widespread longing / demand for stable growth. Is that possible? Is it desirable? Is it an oxymoron? I’m just asking.)

Rather, all those words to which our planet has devoted so much ink and electricity illustrate a truism about us as human beings, one that bears on gloom, glory, and even strategic thinking and competitive strategy. To wit: all those words are from or about people who thought they were doing the right thing. I don’t mean that what they did was right, or that they would do the same things if they knew then what they know now. I mean only that given what they knew and believed and wanted at the time, they thought they were doing the right thing.

How do I know that? Simple. Because no one — not them, not me, not you — gets up in the morning intending to make bad decisions. No one gets up resolving to make the world a worse place or to screw up his or her own life. You and I may disagree with their mental calculus, and they may disagree with ours. That’s not the point. The point is, we all try to make good decisions, given what we know, believe, and want.

So if you are a strategist or diplomat or official who’s concerned with human dynamics, it behooves you to put yourself in others’ shoes and look through their glasses. Given what they know, believe, and want, what will they do? Not what should they do or what you want them to do or what they have done in the past or what would they do if they continue along a trend line. (Do you aspire to follow a trend line? Neither do they.) Rather, what will they do, given what they know and believe and want. That, by the way, may be the greatest benefit of business war games and strategy simulations: they help us understand others’ worlds. (See I Didn’t Know You Could Do That and Monsters.)

Let’s take a step up and think about your next strategy move. Like a chess grandmaster “forcing” her or his competitor’s moves, what can you do to influence your competitors’ options and actions? (You will influence their actions, as they influence yours. The question is only whether you will be accidental or purposeful about it.) For example, in today’s crummy economy it is very, very tempting to cut price, especially if you believe customers are price sensitive and if you want sales. (See Kudos to Abercrombie.) Your competitors face the same choice. Your decisions influence each other: if you cut your price you raise the odds that they’ll cut theirs, and vice versa. Ditto for advertising decisions, R&D budgets, and so on. I’m not saying that you should cut price, advertising, R&D, or anything else, nor am I saying you shouldn’t. What I’m saying is that your decisions have ripple effects outside your company. (Zero percent financing may be a great incentive, if you’re the only one.) Think them through, war-game them through, simulate them through. Based on what I’ve seen, I predict you’ll get helpful surprises.

And now let’s take a step back as we close out 2008.

This year the holiday cards I received came from, among other people, a member of the Bush administration’s Cabinet, the Democratic governor of a state, and a young boy named Cody whom I sponsor through Children Inc. Cody, whom I’ve not met, wished me a “good merry Chrismus” in a child’s careful scrawl. I appreciate the cards from highly accomplished people (keep ‘em coming!) and I am honored and privileged to travel in circles where I meet extraordinary people. And Cody’s card touched me at a different level.

In thanks to Cody let’s add a few more words for 2008, and let’s write them in for 2009 too. Compassion. Gentle. Help. Hope. Support. Kindness. Health. Peace.

All the best to you. Happy New Year, everyone!

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