Friday, October 17, 2008, 9:48 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
On this Friday, something a little different from VideoNuze.
For all of us, these highly uncertain economic times are upending many assumptions and expectations we hold about the business climate in general and the broadband industry in particular. Questions abound: Will VCs continue to invest or will they recoil to the sidelines? Will media companies continue to push new broadband initiatives, or will they curtail them? Will advertising and consumer electronics spending hold up, or crater?
The economic crisis is causing tremendous anxiety, which I hear about daily from industry colleagues. This has all prompted me to recall a piece I wrote 3 1/2 years ago when I was doing a lot of consulting. The concepts feel more relevant today than ever, and so I'd like to share an except today. I hope it's valuable food for thought.
A Question for You
Several years ago I attended my business school reunion. At these reunions, various professors hold sessions featuring short lectures and mini-case studies. These are invariably thought-provoking and amusing.
One of the sessions I attended focused on understanding how we as human beings make our decisions. The assumption is that by breaking down and studying this process, we can improve the odds that our decisions and actions will lead to the results we seek.
To stimulate the audience's thinking and illustrate the particular points one professor sought to make, throughout the session he posed a series of questions and puzzles.
One of the questions was as follows:
"You are stranded on a deserted island. A genie allows you to have one book or person with you. Which book or person would you choose?"
(To play along, pause for a moment before reading on and consider how YOU would answer.)
...OK, who or what did you choose? And be honest!
In my session, attendees immediately started calling out all kinds of answers ranging from "my wife/husband/kid(s) to "Jennifer Anniston/Halle Berry/Brad Pitt/Harrison Ford" to "the Bible/Torah/Koran, etc.
The professor kept listening until someone quietly provided the answer he was hoping for:
"The best boat builder in the world."
At this point the professor said, "Let me help you by this time asking the question a little differently:"
"You are stranded on a deserted island. On the likely assumption that you didn't choose to be in that situation, what's the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO YOU?"
In unison now, the attendees exclaimed:
Thinking in Terms of a "GOTI" Objective Radically Simplifies the World
"GOTI" stands for "Getting Off the Island." When faced with being stranded on a deserted island, there is really only one objective that matters (or should matter!) to you. Thinking in terms of a "GOTI" objective radically simplifies how to use your energies. It filters out the noise, distractions, anxieties and misperceptions about things you might be tempted to consider important, but which in fact aren't.
Like it or not, our motivations drive our actions. And our motivations are deeply influenced by the outcomes we are seeking. In the above example, not accurately identifying what should be the most important outcome (getting off the island) distracts our decisions and subsequent actions.
Why "GOTI" Thinking Matters Now More Than Ever
Most of the time we operate in a "multiple chances" environment. You don't quite get things right the first time, you get multiple chances to iterate and eventually find your way. That's not the case in uncertain economic times, when the difference between getting things right upfront or not could determine the actual survival of your company, job, initiative, etc.
"GOTI" thinking matters more than ever right now. Here's an example to make this tangible: The other day I had breakfast with a friend who's on the board of a young'ish technology company trying to get a foothold against a more established and better financed incumbent. The young company has limited resources and it believes it has two main differentiators: superior technology and the flexibility that its technology gives it to significantly under-price its larger competitor. Should it emphasize both differentiators equally?
In normal economic times the answer is likely yes. But GOTI thinking would lead its team to ask, "Look, we need sales NOW, so what's the quickest path to doing so? Might we actually lengthen the sales cycle by spending time trying to convince prospects of both of our benefits, especially since we already know that cost-reduction is one of THEIR key goals?"
This company would likely be better off just trying to establish technology parity with its competitor (an easier, "table stakes" positioning) and instead focusing heavily on proving its business case and cost-savings benefits. This kind of GOTI thinking would save the company's marketing and sales team from expending valuable energy on establishing technology superiority, which is not what matters most to the prospects right now anyway. This is an example of the kind of tradeoffs that GOTI thinking forces.
A Final Thought
I'm not suggesting GOTI thinking is easy, but I do think it's necessary. In the coming months many companies will squander valuable time and resources on things that are not truly important. Conversely, others will use GOTI thinking to stay focused and improve their odds of successfully coming through this economic storm. Which kind of company will yours be?
What do you think? Post a comment now!