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Posted: November 28, 2011

Measure twice, cut once

Craftmanship and strategy

Todd Ordal

My brother is in management at a large financial firm but is as good at construction as any contractor. Whether it's a deck, a finished basement or a sauna, he builds it perfectly. Likewise, my friend, John - an engineer - is a great woodworker. He builds grandfather clocks that Angela Merkel would be pleased to have in her foyer. If either of them built violins, Stradivarius would be in trouble. They're true craftsmen, blending art and science into great finished products.

The term craftsmanship is less used today than in the past, but it's well-suited for developing business strategy. The process of designing and building a grandfather clock and crafting strategy for a business have four striking similarities:

1. The Right Tools: A craftsman wouldn't start a project without the right tools, the right people and a process. Crafting strategy has requirements as well. Put 10 brilliant people in a room without a methodology and tell them to come back with a strategy and you'll rarely get good results.

2. Slow Down: Speed is the enemy of quality in this case. In our ADD world, CEOs sometimes think they can craft strategy in 30-second bursts between phone calls, tweets and e-mails. In crafting strategy, it's important to disagree, debate the future and search for answers to hard questions. The likelihood of crafting a winning strategy and a plan for execution in a one-day off-site is akin to remodeling your house between dinner and the 10 o'clock news.

3. Measure Twice, Cut Once: Crafting strategy and building a grandfather clock both require planning and execution. My woodworker friend would never just start cutting boards willy-nilly to see what he ended up with, but business leaders do. It's as if they say, I'll just keep randomly cutting and gluing wood until something materializes. Likewise, a master craftsman knows that great plans executed with a dull saw won't produce quality. Planning and execution are of equal importance.

4. Build a Different House: If you use someone else's plans to build a house, yours will look just like theirs. Same result with strategy. Crafting strategy is about being different from your competitors.

One reason people don't use the word craftsmanship as frequently today is that automation has allowed for high quality without the need for human hands. Craftsmen were often woodworkers, metalworkers, jewelry makers and artists. Extrusion molding, lasers, plastic and robotic equipment have reduced the need for craftsmen in those areas. However, I have yet to see the machine that will replace an inquisitive CEO and his management team in devising a series of actions to build a sustainable advantage over their competitors.

That requires craftsmanship.

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Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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Readers Respond

Good thoughts, Todd, as usual. The building metaphor is one I use often in doing information systems work. By Thomas H Holmes, CMC, CPIM on 2011 12 11
I want to thank Todd for his insight. Unfortunately, I think he underdeveloped a good concept. Sometimes brief isn't better. In this case he left some good points out of the article and didn't provide enough meat. Here are some additional thoughts. The Right Tools: It's about building the right team, understanding their strengths, and utilizing those strengths for the greater good. Who do you have on your team that has an eye on the future, understands the business, and is a critical thinker. Who has the leadership skills to bring your team to develop a great strategy. Slow Down: Yes, you need to take the time to develop a good strategy, but too often I have seen companies, both small and corporate, spend all their time in analysis. A lot can be completed in a one-day off-site meeting with the right mix of individuals and a clear agenda. You may not finish, but you will at least develop an outline of a strategy and prioritize the importance of each element. Measure twice, cut once: I was unclear how this fit with a strategy session. Cutting jobs, people, budgets, and a miriad of other things corporations cut do not seem conducive to a strategy session. It would in fact be the result of a strategy! Build a different house: I disagree with this definition. When analyzing your competitors, you are looking for opportunities for you business. It will not be a different house, but a modified one that meets some niche in the market that your competitors are not addressing. It doesn't have to be different, just better. I love reading the articles that stimulate thought. Thank you! By Louise Walsh on 2011 11 28

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