Reality. That annoying thing that gets in the way of the best-laid plans for leaders and for companies.
In my personal life, the consequences of ignoring reality are often pretty minor: a sport injury because I pushed too hard, a headache because I had that one last drink, or a stomachache from too much pie.
For organizations, it is often much worse. This may seem obvious, but it's very easy for organizations to get into a groupthink, or for leaders to be so focused on a plan on paper that they don't notice it isn’t working until reality slaps them in the face.
Given that it’s easy to trick yourself into ignoring reality, what are the best ways to embrace it?
Reality-based business planning
One of the things that has allowed PopCap to grow consistently, year over year, is our business-planning processes. When our COO, Dennis Ryan, came on board, he immediately created a regular forecasting process so that we always had a good idea what the next year or so was going to be like.
Instead of trying to justify projects or show growth, the goal was to give us the most realistic view on the business. This made us take regular hard looks into our business and allowed us to come to some important realizations: that we should embrace more platforms, that retail was actually significant, and, more recently, that mobile is the biggest key to the future of gaming.
Go where the customers are
It's very easy to have a business that appears strong and healthy now but that has some serious long-term flaws. A good, honest look at where your customers are is a good check-in to see if your business is aligned with their behavior.
In the early days of Facebook, Ryan kept saying we should do some research and development into Facebook games, because there were millions of customers playing there. I, in my utter foolishness, thought it wasn't relevant, because no company was then making money doing this. Though we eventually made the investment and were successful, had I embraced the "go where the customers are" reality, we would have been there sooner and probably more successfully.
Don't write off the outliers
There will always be the exceptions to the rule--the newcomers, the ones that don't quite fit in. Sometimes, they are predictors of the future. It's very easy to write the exceptions off and assume that whatever they are doing won't last or isn't good. Worse, it's easy to assume that whatever they're doing to be successful is something you can easily learn.
Free-to-play microtransaction games are getting more and more popular. The most profitable games are now games that are run as services, with microtransactions. The old guard still views these games as exceptions, but if hard core goes the way mobile gaming will (as I believe it will), then games such as World of Tanks and League of Legends are the new norm. This is very dangerous to ignore, because some of the biggest game publishers are going to find themselves on the wrong end of an outdated model.
What signs do you have that reality is something different than your plan? And how can you better embrace it?