Strategy Lessons from a Suburban Garden

A month ago our yard was a mess.

garden 1

Fortunately, Nancy & I had a picture of what we could do to change it. Our long-term plan is to plant a bunch of native trees that will block the view of that pipe, and then put in some smaller plants that will attract birds and other wildlife. We have a bunch of plants that we have been growing from tube stock for well over a year, so our scheme was to clear out the weeds and put in the new natives.

This, however, entailed a whole lot of work.

garden 2

Fortunately, unlike many visionary leaders, Nancy is willing to get in there and get her hands dirty too.

garden 3

Then there was the surprise – after clearing out a bunch of the brush, we found an Echidna in our yard!

garden 4

After a fair bit of work over the past month, this is what this part of the yard looked like this afternoon.

garden 5

We planted another 25 native plants in that section, which brings us to about 250 that we’ve put in since we bought the house.

There are a few innovation and strategy lessons in all of this, including:

  • The hard part isn’t the vision, it’s the execution. The reason that most strategies fail isn’t because they are bad strategies, it’s because the execution is poor. Many organisations spend a huge amount of time developing and polishing a strategy, but then put little or no effort into ensuring that their implementation is good. This is completely backwards. Implementation is where most plans go wrong – put the majority of your efforts there.
  • There’s always an Echidna! No plan ever comes off the way it looks on paper. We knew that we had Northern Brown Bandicoots in our yard, but had no idea that there were Echidnas. Now that we know they are around, we are changing out plans a bit to make sure that our yard is as Echidna-friendly as possible. When you’re executing your strategy, you need to be able to adapt on the fly – there will always be surprises. Successful strategies give you the scope you need to change your plans based on unexpected developments.
  • It’s important to be able to picture what you’re trying to achieve. And you often need to be patient in getting there. We’ve been growing these trees for over a year before planting them. And it will be a few more years before we’ll know how they’ll look, and if they’ll block the pipe from view. We have an idea of how things will turn out, but we need to be able to visualise how things might develop.

Executing strategy requires a delicate balance between working your plans and adapting to surprises and changing circumstances. If you are going to be successful, you need to be able to do both well. This is why implementation is so important. That’s where this balance is achieved, whether you’re planting a garden or running an organisation.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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