When it comes to business strategy, are you are Catholic or Buddhist?
In other words, as your business grows, do you stick to a standardized set of approaches (Catholic), or do you disseminate a general mindset that allows for interpretation (Buddhist)?
This is one of the most important questions that repeatedly occurs as businesses attempt to scale, Bob Sutton, a professor of management science at Stanford University, recently told Strategy+Business.
This metaphor first came up when Sutton and his colleagues were initially deciding how to spread new ideas around design thinking, a type of problem solving methodology. Michael Dearing, a former eBay executive who was raised a devout Catholic, put a question to the group: "Are we going to be Catholics or Buddhist?" he asked.
In his interview with Strategy+Business, Sutton revealed a little bit about his personal preference when it comes to the two approaches. In reality, you'll likely need to use both strategies over the course of your expansion. But it's best to start out Catholic, Sutton concluded.
"There's a lot of evidence that it's probably easier to start with a fixed standardized template, and then as you get information that it's not quite working, to flex it," he said.
For example, consider Starbucks' approach to expanding the coffee shop in its early days. The company wanted each store to evoke the feel of an Italian coffee shop, so it installed stand up espresso bars and played opera music at every location.
Americans weren't having any of that. They wanted to sit and sip their coffee, while listening to soft pop music. So Starbucks adjusted. But the company's rigidity in the beginning provided it with reference point from which to make adjustments. And the Starbucks you know today is a result of more than 40 years of those tweaks.
"It's one of those things that doesn't go away. If you think you've got the answer, wait till tomorrow. You're going to have to change it again," Sutton said.