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"You can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach
You have to let them show you what to do differently next time."
President Obama, Back to School Event, Sept 8th, 2009
While I normally prefer to stay out of politics, especially on a business blog, reading the speech that the President gave to American schoolchildren had a number of interesting concepts in it. You can read the full transcript here.
The above quote really resonated with me. Why? Because in business, and in Pharma also, we often see an excessive focus on tactics over strategy. Part of this is because it's easier to churn out stuff and think you're getting things done, but partly it is also a big insecurity and fear of putting one's big picture plans out there for all to scrutinise and provide constructive feedback.
Fear of failure therefore often defines business and Pharma is sometimes no different in this regard. Coming up with robust business plans for the future takes time, energy, effort and a lot of consensus. Smart companies and teams focus on it for several months of the year with a willingness to be flexible and creative about their
Seth Godin summarised it very well though:
"In my experience, people get obsessed about tactical detail before they embrace a strategy… and as a result, when a tactic fails, they begin to question the strategy that they never really embraced in the first place."
Godin is right in that it is all about defining results, not actions. As an old sales manager used to say to me more succinctly when we started writing our annual sales plans:
"Ok guys, it's time to put our balls on the line again."
Guess what happened though?
The teams who paid lip service to strategy over tactics were always at the bottom of the league compared to those who took time out to get it right, truly debate the issues and then outline what the viable outcomes were going to be. Often, we learned more from our past mistakes, refining and honing things, so that next time things were even better. That's how you measure and monitor progress.
It's ok to make mistakes and learn the important lessons, but it would be daft to repeat them. The Japanese call this process of continuous learning, Kaizen. It's also one of my favourite words in the business lexicon.