Strategic Thinking or The Garage Door Problem

Garage door map, Wymondham. Some kind soul has...

Dan, my husband is what you’d call a detail person and I’m more of a big picture thinker. I usually get home from work before he does and a couple of years ago I listened as he pulled into the driveway. I heard the garage door go up and then a big Thunk. I waited a few minutes and then heard a string of language coming from the garage that I am not accustomed to hearing. At that point I went out into the garage to see what the heck was going on.

The motor for the garage door was hanging from the electrical cable, the fixture holding it in place pulled out of the ceiling. Dan came home from work and all he wanted to do was put the car away and close the garage door. Instead, he had one hand stretched over his head holding up the sagging rigging while he was reaching for an out of reach step ladder with the other. I pulled the ladder over for him and while he scrambled up it went in search of the duct tape.

A little later he scrambled down the ladder and while I yelled “No, no, no,” he went to close the garage door. What he hadn’t taken into account was the way the motor connected to the door itself. As soon as the door moved, it would move the whole system and the motor would no longer be stabilized.

Sometimes events are not made up of their parts, but are dependent upon the way the parts are interconnected. It is the same in business. The very skills that you need to deal with the day to day issues of running a business, both stand in the way of seeing potential long-term problems and impact those very problems in hard to predict ways. Not only that, the people who are the very best at the detail level are often hard-wired to be the worst at the big picture or system level.

Business management needs to be able to think sharply in a number of directions. They need to be able to put out the day to day fires of customer service, quality control, supply chain emergencies, what have you, all of this while being aware how these small decisions are impacting short and long term strategies and goals. Sometimes this is accomplished by making sure you have a good mix of personality types on your management team. Sometimes it is accomplished by making review of your goals and procedures a frequent recurrence.

Biologists like to say that change happens at the edge of chaos. That doesn’t mean that we as business owners can’t control those changes. It means we have to be ready to see the implications of all of our decision making at a moment’s notice, right when we are reaching over to close the garage door.


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