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A New Era for Strategy: Why Fail Fast Is Essential to Success vs Long-Range Planning

by | Jun 1, 2023

The pace of business is moving so rapidly that the “time-tested” models of painstaking analysis and carefully crafted strategies with “blockbuster” acquisitions will almost inevitably result in failure.

The legendary and visionary Andy Grove of Intel articulated this back in 1988 in his classic book Only the Paranoid Survive when he succinctly stated: Let chaos reign then rein in chaos.

There are several lessons implicit:

  • No individual has a monopoly on the “correct” idea. It can come from anywhere in the organization, from the most senior to the most junior.
  • So “let chaos reign” and let the organization debate the course that it should take when a paradigm shift occurs.
  • However, the decision must be made based on limited and imperfect information, since when all of the information is known, it’s then too late, the die is cast, and your competitors are far ahead.
  • So quickly sifting through the data, evaluating the alternatives, and moving forward is essential. So, Reign In Chaos!
  • Along with the corollary that those who don’t agree with this new direction must depart the organization. Nothing personal, but there is no longer the luxury for debate and dissent. The organization must move forward as one if it is to accomplish its new objective.

So, what’s changed over the past 35 years? The “cycle time” is much more rapid. It’s essential to test new ideas quickly, in brief, bold strokes—and to acknowledge that many initiatives will be failures. FAIL FAST!

Thomas Edison failed 2774 times according to his records before he achieved a working design for the light bulb.

Amazon’s approach to exploring and to developing initiatives best embodies this methodology.

Welcome to the real world, where things don’t always go your way. Systems can fail despite being designed to be highly available, scalable, and resilient. These failures, if used correctly, can be a powerful lever for gaining a deep understanding of how a system actually works, as well as a tool for learning how to avoid future failures.

The Imperfectionists: Strategic Mindsets for Uncertain Times published in April 2023 articulates this superbly:

The world is changing faster and faster, with increasing uncertainty and threat of disruption in every business and nonprofit segment. Conventional approaches to strategy development and problem solving no longer work—there is no stable industry or market equilibrium structure that we will return to “when change abates.” Most company planning processes are fantasy; market conditions are changing too quickly for arm-chair strategizing to be useful. [Emphasis added JLB] As a consequence, many management teams are stuck in a wait-and-see posture in response to extreme uncertainty in the post-Covid environment, while others are making panicky bets, including ‘leap before you look’ acquisitions.

In this sequel to their Amazon-bestseller, Bulletproof Problem Solving, Conn and McLean introduce a novel approach to strategic problem solving. Based on a decade of research and 30 new case studies, The Imperfectionists posits a dynamic approach to developing organizational direction under uncertainty based on harnessing six reinforcing strategic mindsets, which they call curiosity, dragonfly eye, occurrent behaviour, collective wisdom, imperfectionism, and show and tell.

Imperfectionists are curious, they look at problems from several perspectives, and gather new data and approaches, including from outside their current industry. They deliberately step into risk, proceeding through trial and error, utilizing nimble low consequence and reversible moves to deepen their understanding of the unfolding game being played, and to build capabilities. [Emphasis added JLB] They accept ambiguity and some apparent failures in exchange for improved learning and market position. Imperfectionists succeed with dynamic, real time strategic problem solving, confidently moving forward while others wait for certainty, or make impetuous and foolish bets.


Jeff Balash achieves results that change companies by applying his EQ and IQ. He gets to know people easily, appreciates their personal and their firm’s challenges, culture, and competitive environment to develop breakthrough solutions that can be understood and implemented.

Jeff has done business on six continents and has consistently been an innovator. He uses Design Thinking to develop creative and innovative solutions and strategies. McKinsey research: over a ten-year period, design-led companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 219 percent.