Driving Strategy – Lessons from a São Paulo Taxi

“Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Lost-Alice

This week I taught a course on how to map strategy with the Balanced Scorecard. The great theme of the training was the importance of having a vision of the future – a clear and shared focus which clearly shows the direction for the organisation. We also discussed the importance of creating the trajectory, the strategy that will lead the organisation to reaching this future vision.

The discussions were of the highest level, with an active participation of the participants who transformed the class into a happy experience learning.

After the course, I took a taxi back home with a taxi driver who is a friend and who I have known for a while. Along the way he was telling me how his previous passenger was a lady who would not tell him the street she wanted to go to, just the neighbourhood. With an authoritarian posture, she was instructing him at every stop, turn and junction; “turn here now, go straight at the next street, turn left”, and so on. He told this story to me in order to point out how bad it was not knowing where he was going.

As I had spent the whole morning discussing the importance of clarity of vision of the future, the drivers for designing strategy, it was natural to make the analogy with what he told me …

  • By not knowing where to go, I can’t tell if I am taking the best route
  • I have to drive slower because I need time to react to the instruction to turn
  • When the command to turn is given at the very last moment I could well miss the turning, therefore having to turn around and come back, wasting time
  • The possibility of having an accident is higher due to waiting for a command resulting in the need for a quick manoeuvre putting both us and others at risk;
  • Because I have to stay focused and waiting for the commands, I can’t afford to look around at what is happening further along the road, I have to concentrate only on the car and the person who is commanding.

In other words

  • The lack of vision and clear drivers does not allow us to design a strategy which optimises resources and prioritises that which adds value;
  • Without clear direction, we do everything slower, often having to redo work, always waiting for instructions from someone who “knows where to go”;
  • Often, new instructions are given and we have to stop what we are doing and we end up fire-fighting or doing some task that was unplanned;
  • Concentrating only in the short term raises the risk of only doing what is necessary and urgent and not what the strategy requires;
  • Concentrating only on what is immediate and the commands, we do not have time and the ability to look at the wider context, movements and signals coming from the dynamic business environment, therefore never taking the time and space to think about the future and prepare for it.Doing our day to day work in the name of a future vision we wish to reach is as essential as doing this daily work well. This change of perspective helps us to differentiate between that which adds value and that which only consumes our time and energy, impacting on the end results.

Looking ahead allows us to make more sense of what we are doing now. Productivity and capacity for innovation come to life when we can see further along our horizons, when we analyse our paths and make our decisions properly and robustly, because it is clear where we want to go.

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