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Monday, July 18, 2011

Chasing the Ice Cream Truck - A Summertime Lesson on Action-Oriented Strategy

Do you remember when you were a child and you heard an ice cream truck approaching? I don’t know about your experience, but I can vividly picture that instant when the sweet sound of that carnival-like music hit our ears. Suddenly, our road hockey game (Stanley Cup Finals…Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens…always in overtime) didn’t seem so important. In a flash, every single kid dropped their hockey stick and sprinted all the way home yelling “M-O-M! I. NEED. MONEY!!!

As a kid, that ice cream truck represented pure opportunity. Even without hearing those bells yourself, the instant you saw one of your friends lift their head and look wide-eyed into the distance, you knew something good was approaching and you wanted in.

If you were lucky, everything fell in line and you got to enjoy that sweet cool treat and get back to the game. But it didn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, for various reasons, you ended up sprinting all the way back only to find the truck gone, or just as frustrating, one of your buddies had bought the last of the astro/twister/lickety pops and you had to settle for a runny, half-melted fudgy-something-or-other (yuck!). Even though that ice cream truck came around regularly, those of us who missed it would always feel like it would never, ever come back again. Oh the bitter disappointment of opportunity missed!

Wisdom from the 80s…Mullets, Moustaches and “Missed Opportunity” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gRqYHFja1k

Eventually, some kids got wise to the chronology of our neighborhood ice cream truck and we made sure we had our money ready BEFORE the truck came so that we could pounce on that opportunity when it presented itself (preparation!). But the real breakthrough came when we figured out that we didn’t have to wait for the opportunity at all. Instead of relying on opportunity to come to us, we went out and found it ourselves. Once we became mobile and free to roam beyond the street corner, we found our ice cream mecca was only a grocery store freezer away. No longer were we bound by the fickle and unreliable timing of that darned ice cream truck. We had become entrepreneurs and there was no keeping us from our rightful reward.

The lesson for today is simple. You can wait…and wait…and wait for opportunity to come to you, but if you really want to prosper, you have to actively, consistently and strategically chase it yourself.

As the sun shines warmly and nature colors her pages over the next two months, I hope you get an opportunity to chase an ice cream truck or two for old times sake, (try it in flip flops and remember to wave your $ bill in the air just like when you were a kid). But, after a go or two at this, remember that there is a better way to get your hands on that cool treat you desire.

“The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and   not react.” (George Bernard Shaw)


Focus!

Spend some time this summer season getting re-focused. (This is not a full-on strategic planning exercise. It’s more like a check-up. Or if you like sports or arts analogies, an intermission where you can take stock of your situation and confirm or adjust your strategy).

Although it’s getting more and more difficult, I’ve done this every summer for the past 17 years in my various roles and I find it extremely valuable. It’s so easy to get off-track when you’re plowing away at work so I use the summer as my intermission (i.e. a break to see where we’re at in our mission). I encourage you to do the same so your efforts remain focused towards your goals.

My approach is not fancy. I simply start with a blank piece of paper and start thinking and typing responses to basic strategic questions like…

  • What is our core mission/purpose?
  • What makes us unique and valuable to the clients we serve? What benefits do we provide them? What specific problems do we help solve (i.e. what “pains” do we take away?)
  • What are our biggest challenges/opportunities right now?
  • What are our main areas of expertise and what services do we offer at this time?
  • Who are the “right buyers” for these services?
  • What specific actions do we need to take to get these “right buyers” to work with us?
  • Etc.

My trick is to always start from a blank page. If you already have a strategic plan-type document, this may seem inefficient but I find it much more valuable. It helps me avoid just tinkering with existing plans and instead allows me to look at the situation from a fresh perspective. Once I’m done, I compare it to my previous plan document and shortlist what actions I need to focus on executing over the next quarter or two.

If you’re interested in seeing a more detailed example of my actual notes from this summer’s “re-focus”, go to my website at www.strategymakers.ca and send me a request with your email address.

Remember:
1. Focus.
2. Prepare.
3. Chase!

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