Is "move fast and break things" a smart entrepreneurial strategy? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Don't you love corporate clichés? You can just imagine a conference room where a well-spoken, politely-dressed consultant encourages us to "move fast and break things," and everyone looks seriously at each other and nods. It sounds like a bold operating philosophy - and a call for action! Of course, the problem is that no one really knows if this means strategically, tactically, or operationally. A link to our organization's purpose, resources, and values is completely missing as well.
General Chuck Jacoby and I wrote Agility: How to Navigate the Unknown and Seize Opportunity in a World of Disruption to address an urgent need for intellectual and operational clarity that would enable any organization to purposefully navigate these uncertain times. In formally defining the concept of agility as:
The organizational capacity to effectively detect, assess and respond to environmental changes in ways that are purposeful, decisive and grounded in the will to win.
We had a number of important objectives. First, we set out to differentiate this special competence from narrower and less effective qualities, such as speed, adaptability, and flexibility. Second, we wanted to dispel some of the meaningless generic prescriptions to dealing with rapid change and uncertainty, such as "radically flattening organizations," "moving fast and breaking things," "becoming agile leaders," and "fostering digital literacy."
The need for agility in business, government and warfare arises precisely from the uncertainty and complexity of the competitive environment and the presence of clever and determined adversaries. Agility requires the capacity to rigorously assess a situation and decide in a timely manner how, when, and to what end our talents and resources should be deployed. It entails the ability to dynamically deploy all of our capabilities--individually and in combination--with a most effective use of time and energy.
In sports, while agility is not merely speed, power or endurance, those qualities are all necessary enablers of agility. To win through agility, we don't need to be the biggest, the fastest or the strongest, but we do have to be big enough, strong enough and fast enough. Of course, speed matters: we want to be able to mitigate threats and capture opportunities faster than our rivals. However, speed in and of itself is not nearly enough. What's better: to quickly arrive at a wrong course of action based on insufficient information or gut feelings - or to take a bit longer to comprehensively assess the environment, procure missing data, and carefully shape an effective solution?
Similarly, why is "breaking things" the best response to change, threats, and opportunities - especially given that organizational disruptions often lead to risk aversion and impair engagement and trust. What if a better approach to a particular situation entails deepening trust, improving existing practices and tools, and activating some of our resources and capabilities that have been developed in advance but not fully utilized in the old environment? In our framework, this is related to a pillar of agility we call execution dexterity.
Execution dexterity is the organizational ability to dynamically and effectively use all our resources and capabilities in ways that are custom-tailored to the circumstances at hand. This entails being equipped with a full arsenal of capabilities, which we call levers, having developed each lever to be of adequate quality and capacity, having the mastery of each lever, and having the ability to holistically decide how, when and to what end the appropriate combinations of levers should be deployed. Execution dexterity also plays a vital role in the strategy development process, because our realism about the strengths and weaknesses of our capabilities and our ability to effectively deploy them is a critical aspect of shaping an effective strategy.
When we discuss the concept of execution dexterity with leadership teams across public and private sectors, the notion that levers of agility include strategic transactions like M&A, organizational transformations or investments in IT and infrastructure is intuitive. What often comes as a surprise is the fact that risk levers--the total amount of risk an organization takes in pursuit of its objectives and the structure of its portfolio of risks-- are an integral part of the arsenal. They must be used holistically and in concert with more familiar business, organizational and financial tools.
Next time you are told to prioritize speed (i.e., rush to judgement and action) and break things for the sake of breaking them, you'd be well-suited to take this valuable advice with a grain of salt.
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