Have you ever thought about business in the context of a game? Would that game be chess or poker? Had this question been asked during my years in the corner office, I would have curtly responded, “We are strategists. Strategists play chess, not poker – next question.” Twenty-five years later, I’m not nearly as dogmatic or single-minded on the topic. It’s not that I’m going to do a 360 on the value of strategy in business – strategy is part of my DNA; I attribute much of my corporate success to a strategic and creative mindset. The truth of the matter is that a master strategy without agile tactics diminishes the potential of a business.
So if chess is strategic, what is poker? One can argue that poker is also strategic. A good player will study the table and look for the subtleties of nervousness or elation during play. But it is the tactics of poker that wins the game. In poker, you handle each hand as it is dealt, quickly varying your play to suit the situation. There are plenty of options, but you have to make a decision. You can’t make it tomorrow or next week. You make it now. A business without poker would not only be boring but also limited in potential.
Companies who play poker well are often not into strategic planning; neither are they obsessively fretting about competitive moves on the strategic game board. These companies are obsessed with operational details. Critical to their profitability is nimble and flawless execution, day-in, day-out. A restaurateur, for example, will focus inwards and concentrate on the details – issues such as thrilling the customer, procuring high quality goods at the lowest cost, creating fresh menu ideas, continually training staff, and upgrading the décor. For thousands of industries, it is the tactics of poker and not the strategy of chess that drive success.
Business is not a strategy. Business is a game, and there are many ways to play it. But no one wins the game of business without excellence in execution.