Editor's note: "The First 90 Days" is a series about how to make 2016 a year of breakout growth for your business. Let us know how you're making the First 90 Days count by joining the conversation on social media with the hashtag #Inc90Days.
It's a new year, a chance to start fresh. Before you get bogged down in the inevitable day-to-day details of running your business, now's the time to ponder and discuss long-term visions. For one thing, your mind probably has been away from the grind anyway. Chances are, over the holidays, you were already reading and relaxing and musing on big-picture scenarios.
For the first three months of 2016, Inc. is running a series called "The First 90 Days." Each post will offer up actionable ideas for what you can do right now to jumpstart 2016 for your company and set it up for big success.
Let's start with what to do with those big-picture thoughts. It's not enough to have them; you need to act on them. Read on for three concrete ways to incorporate long-term thinking into your strategy in the year ahead.
1. Find your real quest.
Are you inspired by the companies, leaders, or characters who prize profit over everything else? Or are you inspired by those whose quest serves a larger purpose?
The most beloved and respected brands have a quest that "defines an ambition beyond commercial aspiration," says Ty Montague, a branding and business strategy expert. On the first workday of the year, months away from the close of the quarter, you have a chance to think about and discuss how your company's efforts transcend money or shareholder value.
To start, Montague suggests you ask yourself (or the group) the following six questions:
- What is the actual story of your company's origins?
- Is there a wrong you're trying to right?
- Does your story define an enemy--a competitor, industry, or circumstance? In other words, what are you fighting against? When you get out of bed each morning, what dragon are you setting out to slay?
- Is your quest being used to drive action throughout your business? That is, do all employees know what the quest is?
- What are your definitive or iconic innovations?
- Are people outside of your company excited by--and participating in--your quest?
2. Forget about getting things done and measurable results.
In a recent interview, innovation and leadership expert Hal Gregersen, co-author (with Clayton Christensen and Jeff Dyer) of The Innovator's DNA, told me that earnest, big-picture thinking remains a struggle for executives--even for those with sincere intentions.
"Their leadership habits are largely oriented around delivery and execution and getting things done," says Gregersen, who is also executive director of the MIT Leadership Center and senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School. "And for that, they're rewarded, supported, and promoted."
Which means it's often hard for them--even after a holiday--to separate themselves from the grind and ask the potentially painful questions. So if you're going to have a big-picture discussion, make sure you give everyone amnesty from their short-term deadlines and daily pressures.
3. Follow your product from a customer's hands all the way back to its origins.
One of Gregersen's techniques is to mix big-picture questions with uncomfortable situations.
"You've got to put yourselves in situations that are going to force you to be wrong," he says. "It'll dissolve an assumption around your world and accelerate a transition to a better place."
Not long ago Gregersen asked Guy Wollaert, former chief innovation officer and chief technology officer at Coca-Cola, about the questions that made him challenge his assumptions--and subsequently led to big-picture insights. Wollaert told him about his experiences overseeing procurement for juice products from 2007 to 2010. For Wollaert, a key question was: Have you ever followed an orange from planting to consumption?
Wollaert literally followed the oranges through every phase of the process. He visited supermarket shelves, distribution centers, packaging plants, ports, ships that transport the juice to ports, storage terminals, orange processing factories, trucks that bring the oranges from farms to those factories, and, last but not least, the farms themselves.
From his activities, Wollaert gained many insights. But his main takeaway was that Coca-Cola--a beverage company from birth--had to think of itself as a fruit and liquid food company too. Whereas the flagship soda product came from a precious and protected formula--everything calibrated to an extreme--juice couldn't be made that way.
"So that meant no [fixed] formula for the recipe," he says. "You need to have flexibility and respond to what Mother Nature gives you and continuously adjust your blending to optimize the taste. That's something Pepsi understood, but that was new to Coke. And that insight comes directly from the question, 'Where does the juice come from?'"
What's more, the insight wound up informing Coca-Cola's decisions around sustainability (more agricultural initiatives) and visual branding (changing the Minute Maid carton).
"You now see oranges and leaves on the carton," he says, "and a hint of the tree."