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The Zombie Planning Meeting: Stop Investing in Dead Ideas

Posted by Jeff Bennett on Jun 25, 2013 7:00:10 AM
Jeff Bennett
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Have you ever had déjà vu during a meeting while discussing an idea that you’re certain was dismissed last year, or the year before that? Yet here it is, still being discussed and maybe even invested in. Like the zombies in a bad horror movie, these ideas just keep coming back, undead, to hunt you down.

Good strategy in the B2B world is about choice, and that means not doing some things that sound good. Yet even companies that achieve strategic focus on paper have difficulty making it stick. Old strategic ideas may be pushed underground for a while, but they continue to come back.

One of my clients recently realized through their strategic-planning process that they were allocating their precious R&D budget by giving $10,000 to $20,000 to every scientific research project that asked for funding. While harmless on an individual level, this practice meant that they were spending millions total on projects that would likely never amount to anything instead of focusing their investment on the projects with the most potential and highest probability for a payback. The conclusion was that they really needed to invest a healthy amount in just one or two areas if they wanted any chance of discovering something groundbreaking. We went through a long process to choose which projects to focus on, and actually built consensus on a set of priorities. Sadly, however, in the end they didn't want to give up doing those smaller, $10,000 projects. It was too threatening, and it will probably hold them back.

Choice is hard. In many companies, compromise is the norm. People who take extreme positions risk being shunned. In addition, choice is risky. Betting on just a couple of technologies increases the chance that none will succeed, and you’ll be left in a sorry competitive position. Lastly, choice, like the kind we are describing, is counter to the organizational incentives that many B2B companies put in place. For example, if my job title is product line manager, how likely am I to suggest that we stop investing in my product line?

Understanding these factors and addressing them is key to the success of any strategic initiative. Socializing risk rather than just hoping for changes in individual behavior is often a good place to start. This starts with making strategic choices publicly and transparently, and separating them from the individuals involved.

Are you under attack by zombie strategies? If so, you may need to do a better job of communicating your desired strategic focus and understanding how your organization will respond.

Have you been attacked by zombie projects that should have been killed long ago? Seen projects with great potential die due to under-funding? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments section.

Topics: Market Strategy