Strategy aperture gifts and curses

Now that I’ve sketched out the concept of strategy aperture, let’s play with it. Let’s imagine two teams: one with a wide strategy aperture and the other with narrow. What are the gifts and curses of these teams?

A team with a wide strategy aperture will have the gift of sensing: it will be able to discern a massive variety of opportunities. The flexibility of the wide aperture gives it the capacity to try everything. Dabble in this, taste test that. Write a quick prototype here, throw together a demo there.

One thing that this team won’t be able to do is doggedly pursue one particular opportunity. When sensing is a gift, commitment is a curse. Teams with a wide strategy aperture usually stink at delivering on the opportunities. They are idea factories. Their curse is that someone else usually takes these ideas to market. PARC, Bell Labs and many other venerable institutions of technology innovation are all subject to that curse.

Let’s look at the other team. Its narrow aperture gives the team the gift of focus. This team knows how to take a vague idea and make it real. As long as this opportunity is within its capabilities, the team will find a way. Unlike the first team, this one won’t get distracted by a new shiny and accidentally forget about what matters. Like a tractor or any other power tool, if we point this team to a problem, we know that they will give it their all.

The curse of this team is that it’s pretty much blind to other opportunities. Once the target is locked, there might as well be no other opportunities – everything is poured into the one that’s chosen. As a member of engineering teams, I’ve seen this pattern repeat quite often. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. When new disconfirming evidence emerges, the narrow-aperture team just keeps on chugging. Even when everyone knows the effort is going to fail, nobody dares to mess with the gears. People just keep shrugging and saying: “Yep, this one’s going to end poorly.”

This vignette gives us a nice distinction to build upon. If we look around various teams in our organization, can we spot the ones with the narrow aperture? Can we point at the ones with the wide aperture? Knowing their gifts and curses, can we predict what will happen next with the project they are working on?

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