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What trades-offs are you making?


It was a few weeks ago.

I arrived home after a long day of travel, stepped inside the house… and immediately knew the furnace was dying.


A cold house in Canada’s winter isn’t good. Especially after a few warm days in the Caribbean.

Thankfully, Ron the furnace guy showed up, did a quick fix, and our heat was soon back to normal.  As Ron was packing up to leave, we got talking about how he started his own business.

Maybe it was just furnace euphoria, but his story warmed my heart.

There was no big dream to be an entrepreneur.
No idealistic vision to run his own thing.
No secret scheme for Ron to conquer the world of heating and air-conditioning.

Instead: “My kids were in hockey and I wasn’t going to miss it.”

That was 17 years ago.

Working for The Man didn’t allow Ron the freedom to attend practices and games, but he was determined to be with his boys.  So he considered his options, evaluated the pros and cons, and made his choice. Starting his own business came with greater risks, no guarantees, a few sleepless nights – and a lot more flexibility.

It was a clear strategy to achieve his goal.

Sometimes we make strategy more complicated than it needs to be.  Ron’s story is a microcosm of how it’s supposed to work.

1.   Goals and vision aren’t strategy. 

We want to be number one or two in our market. We’ve all heard that one. Except it’s not a strategy; it’s a goal. There’s nothing wrong with having an aspiring goal, but strategy is how we accomplish it.  Ron’s goal was family time. Taking control of his future (and his schedule) was the surest way to get there.

2.   Strategy is about choices. 

For you and me, that means choosing who we serve, how we position ourselves, what we offer (at what price), where we invest, how we grow, and a bunch of other decisions. Each is like a fork in the road. By choosing one path, we say no to another.

As Michael Porter, one of the world’s foremost strategy experts, puts it:  “Strategy is about making choices and trade-offs. It’s about deliberately choosing to be different.”  Ron had other options to starting his own thing – a new career, a different role at the same employer, who knows what else? But he made a choice.

3.   Trade-offs can be uncomfortable.

It’s why discomfort is an obvious signal whenever we talk strategy. We should feel those gas pains rumble through our stomachs. Choices are difficult. Ron traded the pain and struggle of starting his own business for guaranteed family time. It wasn’t always a breeze. But he never missed a hockey game.

We all want a crystal ball for our future.  

But we can be paralyzed to move without assurance. We can get stuck in our old patterns, habits and ways.

Many companies are shocked when they’re surpassed in the marketplace. As individuals, we can get jealous when someone else accomplishes what we wish for ourselves.

If only we had made a choice, at some point, to do something.

And that’s strategy in a nutshell.  If we’re not choosing… and making trade-offs… we’re probably not doing anything.

Including strategy.

So ask yourself:

  1. What was the last real strategic choice you made?
  2. What was your trade-off?