Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fake Steve on Real Strategy Problems

I started reading The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs because it was a funny parody of the man behind Apple, but I've kept reading it because often skewers the foibles tech industry better than anybody else. If you've ever sat in one of those "here's our new strategy!" meetings at a company that clearly was adrift, as I have, this post is worth a read; I laughed out loud at the chart:

I don't mean to particularly pick on Sun, or even comment on whether this is a fair parody of their recent announcements; it's just that I watched the kind of process that results in this kind of strategy.

It starts with recognition that there's trouble, but nobody seems to quite accept that. Someone has some good ideas about new directions. Somebody points out that there's revenue coming from some older projects that don't fit the new strategy, but you have to talk about them, because there's money. Someone else with the interesting but irrelevant to overall strategy project is politically powerful and so that becomes a bullet point on the PowerPoint slide. (You're summarizing the new strategy in PowerPoint? Oh, you're already in trouble.)

And when all is said and done, nobody really understands the new strategy, and nobody does much differently.

Not that any of this is easy, particularly at a large company. I remember watching the weird double-think in action at one former job, a large international telecom that had decided that it was an internet company, dammit. Everything you did had to be justified in terms of that new direction. If you were getting approval to reprint brochures, you had to fill out a line on a form that explained how this supported the new strategy. If you wanted a travel approval, you had to explain it.

We got very good at inserting something into every document that paid homage to the new strategy, eve when we were doing something that had nothing to do with it (but that might be a smart thing to do).

Changes in strategy, when seriously implemented, often include hard decisions. They also often mean the delicate juggling act of continuing to do things that provide you with cash but that aren't your future, and figuring out how to support those activities without letting them distract you. I have empathy for the people at Sun figuring this stuff out.

But the chart is still awfully funny after reading some of the coverage of Sun's announcements. And awfully familiar.

No comments: