Time has a very nasty way of turning your assets into liabilities. If you aren't moving forward or if you're spending too much time looking into the rearview mirror, you'll wake up one day soon and discover that you've been left behind. Every company, large or small, should have the same, very simple, motto to remind people day-in and day-out of the "need for speed." I'd suggest "si non nunc quando" which translates to "if not now, when?" because that says it all. Move it or lose it.
Excessive waiting doesn't make for better decisions; it makes for lost time, demoralized people, and a devastating loss of direction and momentum. Massive business plans and strategy documents, millions of meetings, extensive third-party consulting reports, and excessively detailed analyses are simply ways to hide from the truth and avoid making the tough decisions. Elaboration in these cases is often just a form of mental pollution.
Speed is everything today and startups understand that necessity much better than most big businesses because: (a) entrepreneurs all suffer congenitally from "hurry sickness"; (b) the race to self-sustainability for a startup is existential; if you don't get to some point of equilibrium where you can stop pedaling (and fundraising) for a moment or two in order to take stock of where you've been and where you're heading, you're gonna be toast soon enough; and (c) if you're not in a big hurry, you're probably already too late.
On the other hand, in too many large organizations, there's a striking lack of urgency, a reluctance to make hard choices, and a willingness to ignore the inevitable until it's too late. Hoping that the problems will resolve themselves and that the competition will go away isn't much of a strategy. As a result, mediocre projects lumber on because no one has the courage to call a halt; make-work jobs and featherbedding flourish because there's no accountability and no one keeping score; and the business heads slowly and continually downhill into irrelevance and obscurity. No one ever said it better than T.S. Eliot: "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper."
The "bad" behaviors, which bring about these results, are obvious, but regardless of the size of your business, if you don't consistently root out and address the causes and concerns, you're never going to improve the current state of affairs or get yourself out of the deepening hole that you're slowly slipping into. This is clearly one of those cases where the big, old and tradition-bound businesses can learn a great deal from the examples that abound in the startup world. In fact, if I had to make a short catalogue of the issues that constantly recur whenever you see a business starting to go sideways, I'd start with the 5 basic fears:
1. Fear of Failure
This is the most common problem and frankly the one that's already been the most exhaustively discussed. It's still No. 1 on the hit parade, but I don't have a whole lot to add to the prior conversation. Suffice it to say, if you let your fears rather than your desires and goals drive your decisions, you're not going to get anywhere. Entrepreneurs don't have all the answers, but the one thing that they know for sure is that to pull off these new and special adventures, your faith, especially in yourself, needs to be stronger than your fears. They don't ask for permission; they wonder who's gonna stop them. And they run toward their fears rather than away from them.
2. Fear of Success
This is the least understood of the fears. Scaling is scary. You want to be sure that the path you're about to embark on isn't a gangplank that you're about to walk off. Rapid expansion along any dimension of your business isn't easy. Moreover, just as many businesses get in trouble because they can't handle the radically increasing demands of their customers, who tend to want more of a good thing, and faster. In big businesses, everyone knows a story about an ex-employee who got too far out over his or her skis and is no longer there. There are very few prizes for being the one who's the budget buster even if the gamble looked unbeatable to everyone at the beginning. This is why I often say that in the startup world ignorance is a competitive advantage, because you don't know what it is that you're not supposed to be able to do and so you just go out there and get it done.
3. Fear of Choosing
I think of this problem as a version of pre-buyer's remorse. Someone has to be willing to step up to the plate and make a decision and then live with the consequences. And, you need to strike a balance. Too few alternatives and you make bad choices; too many choices and you never make a decision. Everything that we do or decide not to do is a choice, but sitting around and putting off the critical decisions is no longer an option. As all the great QBs like to say, when you cock your arm, you need to go ahead and throw it and not spend a lot of additional time thinking or talking about it. Entrepreneurs live by their wits and their intuition. In their world, so many decisions are made in real time and so quickly that analysis paralysis isn't really a problem although there's always a long line of investors happy to say "I told you so" when things go wrong. All that noise doesn't really matter much - any decision beats no decision all day long.
4. Fear of Commitment
In an ideal world, everything would be reversible, and take-backs and do-overs would be as easy as pie. But, in the world we inhabit, especially when you're dealing with a finite amount of resources, multiple options, and a very short window for action, you're stuck with the choices you make. However, that's no excuse for not choosing. It's a part of the leader's job-- playing safe just won't do. You can't steal second base with one foot still firmly on first. Your team needs to commit just as fully - not just in words, but also in their hearts and in their actions.
5. Fear of Being Blamed
Playing the blame game is a waste of everyone's time and one of the most destructive parts of any company's culture. When things go wrong, there's no question that you need to find out why. But, the goal isn't to beat someone up, it's to get better and avoid the problem the next time. In the best new businesses, there are only two instances when we blame people: when they don't ask for the help they need and when they don't help their peers when they're asked.
Bottom line: There's really no mystery here. Take a look at your own business and your own team and see who's on the move--pushing the business ahead--and who's afraid to act and waiting in the wings to be told what to do.
As Bob Marley said: "You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice."