Avoiding risk may be a very risky strategy

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Are we we talking about changing the way people work or about the need to interact differently with partners and clients, despite an unanswerable analysis of the context and the proven existence of many tangible opportunities, many prefer  to curl up and adopt a rather conservative and defensive strategy, arguing that it’s less risky to face a know, even difficult, situation, than to explore something new.

An idea came to me when watching a sport talk show a few weeks ago. A well known coach was saying : “let’s stop saying that a team that  plays in an offensive way is taking risks : it’s only trying to create opportunities”. It’s the same in soccer, tennis, basket, poker : teams and players are always split in two categories : those who go forward and are said having risky strategies and those who curl up, play hard on defense and wait for the storm to stop, hoping to make the difference on a counterattack.

Experience shows us that both can be winning strategies.

I find the analogy with enterprises relevant. Chosing a defensive strategy means being able to take blows, having to put up with competitor’s strategy, hoping better times will come. And sometimes that works. But the comparison does not fully apply. Sometimes, the walls crack and a the player or team in question is swept away. In the sport context it’s only a lost game, and a new competition will start a few days or weeks later, and everything will restart from scratch. In the word of business, the consequences of being swept away may last a very long time,

We can draw the following conclusion : chosing a defensive strategy, refusing the fight, let competitors take the initiative in a world where the score is not regularly set to zero, when everything does not restart from scratch every new week or year does not pay. Businesses are on an endless run where they can’t say “tomorrow will be another day”, if a competitor takes any advantage and is ahead today, both businesses won’t be on the same starting line tomorrow.

The recent Nestlé Case is meaningful. Now, wait to see if Nestlé, as Dell did in a similar situation years ago, will take advantage from the situation to change its approach, its strategy and adopt a more open one. As a matter of fact I’m sure than they’ve learned that the risk was not where they thought it was.

Playing in an offensive and open way is not a risk but an opportunity after all. Having to resist and put up with what others decide is, in the other hand, a real risk.