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Playing All the Keys at Once

Implementing Strategic Plans

June 12, 2020

I’m certain that at one time or another, each of us has browsed through fragrances in a larger cosmetics store, picking up and sampling the contents of a few bottles. I’m not sure exactly when I noticed them, but I am continually fascinated by the small plastic containers filled with coffee beans that are placed strategically throughout the perfume section in these stores.

Learning to Drown Out the Noise

The idea of clearing one’s olfactory palette isn’t necessarily noteworthy, but the idea behind it is intriguing and carries a lot of relevance with regard to strategy. If you try to hold onto or process too many ideas at once, none of them may find success.

For example, spraying three or four fragrances at once causes the following things to happen:

  • They will conflict and steal focus from one and other;
  • They will be indistinct, and it will be hard to distinguish clearly what the good parts of each are or where the favorable components originated from;
  • You will spend most of your time trying to sort out the good parts of each (a form of analysis paralysis) rather than focusing on what you like about one;
  • You will likely become irritated, lose interest in all of them and disengage.

The same is true when you’re trying to develop a set of strategic objectives. Trying to juggle too many things simultaneously does the same things indicated above to your focus and, ultimately, hinders your ability to execute your plan.

The reason the beans are there is so that after trying one fragrance, or a couple of distinct fragrances in manageable ways, you can reset your ability to process them. After that, you can determine if you want to explore the nuances of one (or a small number) you have already tried more completely or discard the ones you have analyzed and move on to the next sample group.

Flexibility in Implementing Plans

A different way of looking at this comes from a musical perspective. When you write music, it’s easy to fall into the trap of losing objectivity about what you are creating. This usually manifests itself into some form of being inflexible or trying to push an idea too hard to work. My bandmate had a solution to this — do something completely “wrong.” Dramatically change the sound of the synthesizer. Play the wrong notes. Play ALL of the keys at once. It resets the palate. It’s the musical equivalent of the small jar of coffee beans.

You can get so attached to an idea that you lose perspective. You start to treat ideas, goals or objectives as fragile, inflexible things. By resetting your thinking, you can see things differently and renew your ability to recognize the good parts of a song and discard what isn’t working, determine which scent is really the one you prefer or identify the pieces of an idea, strategic vision, tactic or plan that will work to serve your organization best, with purpose and clear focus.

Strategic plans work best when they aren’t treated as fragile. Well-developed strategies are durable, nimble and are designed to work best when there is freedom to adapt, freedom to empower change within an organization and freedom to discard what may not be working or relevant at that point in time.

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Joe Benesh

Joe Benesh is the President and CEO of The Ingenuity Company, located in Des Moines. The Ingenuity Company specializes in Strategic Planning, Diagramming, Organizational Design Thinking, and Leadership/Change Facilitation. He also teaches strategic planning at the University of Iowa in the MBA Program.