The elephant and the snail

Too rigid. Need flexibility. Don’t move fast enough. Slow.

Could be me at the gym but…
Be honest – sound familiar? I bet we have all heard this at one time or another from a client or even a prospective client. And, I bet some of us are struggling with the issue right now.

And, I bet we hear this criticism in the context of comparison to some small, not nearly as well resourced; or strategic; or connected agency that has made flexibility and speed their competitive edge.

Further, I am ready to bet because these small competitors are not “strategic” or “connected,” our view is that the client has gone tactical and just doesn’t appreciate the value added that we bring, which of course launches a discussion on money and ROI and cost per whatever and a scramble on or part to justify ourselves and the scope of our engagement.

This whole conundrum got me thinking about the world and natural predators and competitors and if flexibility and speed were a function of size and scale.

When we think “slow,” we think of snails and turtles. For the most part small; for the most part loners, i.e., little or no coordination between their own types as they painfully, slowly and painfully navigate their environment. Neither is famous for much forethought (unless you count the story of the Tortoise and the Hare) and I’m hard pressed to remember any great learning’s other than steady and slow – a good lesson for its time – but the real lesson should be steady and fast – if you see my point.

Think “fast” and “agile” and the great cats come to mind. Elephants can run and turn more quickly than we can. Some whales are true Olympians and it’s posited that some of the big dinosaurs were not as lumbering as we believed to be. Nor were they the loners we projected.

Interestingly, among the true competitive advantage of many of these species seems to be their ability for coordination; synchronization and harmonized management. In short these exemplary members of the animal kingdom seem to have a plan.

But wait – don’t we? Have a plan I mean – when we engage clients – a plan based on our heritage; our knowledge; our deep use of resources; best practices – you get the picture.

Ergo, if we have a plan, and size has been shown not to be a natural barrier to speed, we should be quicker to market with better ideas and programs than any small mere tactical player.

Our herd of elephants; our pride of lions trump their snail any day. And yet we often get lumped with the snail!

What gives?

Seems to me the plan might be the problem:

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”
Dwight D. Eisenhower

We plan. We create plans. And, what we create we hold on to. And what we hold on to is hard to change, etc., etc.

We take process and make it procedure. We take guidelines and make them immutable. We take strategy and make it the law.

I have heard clients say many times “I will not be hostage to your way of doing things.” I have also seen Power Point presentations to clients – complete with our little arrows and boxes and sub-routines that fervently describe THE way to work when we have no clue as to their needs or issues – or worse, worse even after we know and still don’t listen.

In the Army I had a commander who taught us that in battle every plan was merely a platform for change. I suspect that this little thought is what drives the behavior of the Lion Pride or herd of elephants. Deeply and forever embedded in their DNA is the notion that nothing is static – no two animals run the same way; no two paths are alike and the wind and the weather are constantly changing. Imagine if they ran every play by the book…

We have the advantage to be the fastest; most flexible; most agile player in the market because we have the ability to plan and to change and to plan and to change and to plan again.

Our resources; our network; our heritage; our best practices should give us turbo speed – not slow us down.

Planning is about figuring out how to get from A to Z – and knowing that the answer has infinite possibilities. And we need to be expert and careful planners.

We need to know that plans themselves are only of the moment at best…

Be a planner – think; be open; use the tools and resources at your command. But don’t get locked into a plan. Ever see how quickly an elephant turns…?

This is our year to run like hell!

By the way – my wife and kids say that is me at the gym – and so it goes.

Your thoughts?

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