Recently, we explored how even good ideas can meet a disastrous fate when not approached strategically. In our final installment of "Sensible Strategy," we take a look at how brilliant ideas that are superbly executed can be undermined by failing to take into account consequences of their success. I have discovered three simple tests that can help stop bad ideas or broken processes dead in their tracks. This is the third of them.
Test 3 - Calibrate the Consequences
After an idea takes root, a tapestry of causality begins to descend relatively quickly over the handiwork of a project. There is a very brief window of time in which some revisions, a few final changes or corrections, can be made to alter the destiny of an enterprise. It is better to acknowledge problems and confront them head-on, setting and adjusting expectations accordingly, than it is to simply pretend that nothing is going wrong; even a success can seem like a failure if it ends on a bad note.
Case Study: iPhone 4
Everyone has been captivated by the Apple iPhone 4. As an avid Apple fan, I couldn't wait to get my hands on one and evidently, neither could the entire world: pre-ordering the phone was a disaster that crashed servers and left countless fans frustrated bordering on desperation. But the real problem was not that the iPhone 4 has become a victim of its own success; instead, Apple faced the reality that it shipped a product with a serious antenna design flaw. Despite early warnings from an inside engineer, the iPhone 4 was shipped with a defective antenna that dropped calls and when confirmed Consumer Reports could not recommend the device. Apple initially claimed this was a software glitch, but as mounting criticism exploded, public relations experts predicted that a recall was inevitable. As a Microsoft exec gleefully suggested that the iPhone 4 would be Apple's Vista, Apple refused to issue a recall and later held a press conference to blame the problem on something from which all smartphones inherently suffer (something that both RIM and Nokia said was basically propaganda to deflect from Apple's design flaws). Consumer Reports stood by its decision to not recommend the iPhone 4, and the public watched the failure of leadership side-by-side with soaring sales figures. Customers were offered a free case to cover up the flaw.
Nothing is more disappointing than seeing projects and teams try to escape responsibility by pointing fingers and playing a blame game. Organizations rely upon leadership to set accountability and standards for how ideas are born and tasks are carried out and without it, companies can seem like they are floundering when the going gets tough. Responding proactively to changing circumstances with a willingness to correct mistakes and make things right can transform a deteriorating situation into an exemplary success story. In Apple's case, refusing to acknowledge problems, blaming the entire industry, and offering a simple a case to users is more than an abdication of social responsibility; it's a cheap cop-out unworthy of a successful brand.
It's easy for anyone to be a Monday morning quarterback, especially after a disaster has taken place and hindsight provides delicious fodder with which to second-guess decisions. The examples we've discussed in "Sensible Strategy" showcase how avoiding tactical missteps by placing ideas and tasks into a strategic framework could have transformed bad ideas and flawed products into real successes. And yet, as failure is never the end of the story but the beginning of the next chapter for how working groups and organizations mobilize to confront new problems, the three case studies will continue to fascinate me as they evolve.