Monday, May 13, 2024

Success is the Enemy of Future Success

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Strategy Deployment begins with True North -- our strategic and philosophical purpose.

True North entails developing a clear picture of
  1. Ideal condition, and

  2. Target condition.
At the process level, this means answering questions like:

"Is the process behaving as expected?"

Corollaries: Do I understand my process? Is our hypothesis sound? If not, how do we adjust it?

"Is there creative tension in our management process?

Corollaries: Are problems visible? Are we challenging ourselves or simply resting on our oars? True North works much the same at the broad strategic level.

In my view, its purpose, at each "level of magnification", is to create discomfort, and reflection (hansei) thereby.

Wakefulness, if you will.

Success is the enemy of future success.

What quality do outstanding individuals (and organizations) share?

Relentless self-examination -- after defeat, and more importantly, after success.

As evidence, I'd offer Michael Jordan, Jack Nicklaus, Garry Kasparov, Pablo Picasso, and all great sports teams...



In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

There is No Right Answer in Strategy
Content Follows Form or Acting Your Way to New Thinking
Value & Waste at the Imperial Grill
Value in an Age of Endless Innovation

Monday, April 29, 2024

There is No Right Answer in Strategy

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Building on a blog from earlier this year, the strategy is not about perfection. In fact, there is no right strategy.

This is often difficult for senior leaders to accept because it runs contrary to their experience.

Senior leaders are usually the smartest kids in the class, the ones who always have the right answer.

They naturally enjoy the glow of being ‘right’ (synonymous with being ‘smart’). This pattern deepens as they embark on their chosen professions.

Again, they are the smartest people in the room, the ones with the answers, who confidently define what we need to do next.

Such confidence is an important element of leadership. Indeed, good leaders exude a feeling of ‘we will succeed beyond any possibility of doubt.’

Such confidence allows people to relax and get on with the job.

And so, most senior leaders have been conditioned to want to be ‘right’. But, as I said, there is no right strategy.

The past is not the future, and no amount of analysis and reflection will predict the myriad permutations the business chessboard will express.

Some people conclude therefore, that there is no point to developing strategy, that it’s best to ‘just react’ to what happens.

[For strategy geeks, in my opinion, doing so entails misunderstanding the great Henry Mintzberg’s ‘emergent strategy’ concept.]

Yes, it’s true that nowadays it seems there are ‘Black Swans’ everywhere. So why bother with strategy at all?

Twas ever thus – and forever will be. You want to see Black Swans? Check out Ken Burns splendid Vietnam documentary – the episodes that focus on 1968.

There is no right strategy – but there is a right process. By reflecting deeply on what’s happened, on where we want to go, and on what’s preventing us, we better understand the chessboard, the terrain, the pieces, competitors, and our capabilities.

If our strategic planning and deployment process is simple, waste- and hassle-free, we begin the understand the important gaps in technology, customer experience, culture, capability and management systems.

And we take action, we strengthen our weak points, we plug the gaps, we prepare.

In effect, we are projecting our nervous system in to the future, so that when and if the Black Swan appears, we’re not paralyzed. We’re alert, focused and confident. “Folks, this isn’t anything that hasn’t happened before…”

Sound strategic planning, therefore, builds fortitude and tenacity. This is most obvious in sports, where Black Swans are not uncommon. Nobody can predict which way the ball will bounce, or what the score is after the first ten minutes.

But is you have a clear plan and a good understanding of the terrain, competition, your capabilities and have worked on your gaps, you’re much more likely to recover from whatever fate throws your way.

Our articulated Purpose and strategy, therefore, should be clear and simple, as should our strategic planning process.

Nimbleness is of the essence. We should be able to quickly align and deploy, and just as quickly realign and redeploy.

Modular plans, visual management, stand-up meetings, brevity, a shared simple problem solving method are important elements of agility. (How does all this fit together? My books are essentially movies about it, pardon the plug.)

Corporate planning in many large organizations is, sadly, the opposite of nimble. The following adjectives come to mind: ponderous, heavy, boring, wasteful, difficult, confusing…

By adhering to a heavy, formal annual planning process, we are, in effect, projecting our punches. A droll competitor might wait till we publish our strategy, and then the day after, change theirs…

There is no right answer in strategy, but there is a right process.

Best wishes,


In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

Content Follows Form or Acting Your Way to New Thinking
Value & Waste at the Imperial Grill
Value in an Age of Endless Innovation
The Power of One Page

Monday, April 15, 2024

Content Follows Form or Acting Your Way to New Thinking

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

By walking, I found out where I was going
Irving Layton

Acting your way to new thinking is easier than the other way round. (Tip of the hat to my colleague Mike Rother.)

That’s why Politeness is called the door to the Great Virtues – (another tip of the hat, this time to Andre Comte-Sponville.)

Politeness is pure form. Our children don’t understand why they have to behave in a certain way. But the more they do it, the more they come to understand Gentleness, Humility, Compassion and other great virtues.

Content follows form. May I suggest that form helps to create content? The imitation of virtue over time becomes the real thing.

What’s this got to do with Lean management? Quite a bit.

Lean excellence rests on a set of mental models or mindsets, which I’ve described in some detail (Getting the Right Things Done). These include:

  • Leaders are teachers

  • Go see for yourself

  • Make problems visible

  • Engage everybody in improvement work…

What’s the best way to change one’s behavior? Why, through a set of routines – even if you don’t fully understand why you’re doing them.

Understanding will come: “Holy cow, I had no idea what was actually happening. If I hadn’t gone to see for myself, I’d have made a disastrous mistake!”

Or, “Good thing we committed to involving the front line in planning our launch, and giving them the authority to stop and fix problems. It’s our best launch ever!”

Or, “I thought standardized work would hinder my creativity. But it’s freeing me up. I now have time to reflect, coach and make strategy!”

In our old Toyota plant, I often didn’t understand why we did certain things – daily stand-up meetings, scheduled & purposeful gemba walks, PDCA cycles around all significant activities and the like.

But I did all these things because that’s what you did in a Toyota factory, and because I intuited a deeper, richer pattern, a chessboard grander than any I’d imagine before.

By walking I found out where I was going.

Best regards,


In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

Value & Waste at the Imperial Grill
Value in an Age of Endless Innovation
The Power of One Page
Strategy in a Time of Explosive Change

Monday, April 1, 2024

Value & Waste at the Imperial Grill

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

In honor of my late father, Frank.

I learned the fundamentals of management at my dad's restaurant, the Imperial Grill

Value & waste, standardized work, visual management, flow & pull -- Mama & Dad practiced them all.

They didn't call it Lean, of course. It was just common sense.

Value at the Imperial Grill meant good food at fair prices, a welcoming atmosphere, and a deep sense of community.

People liked the food, and they liked hanging out there.

At the Imperial Grill, I experienced each form of waste viscerally. Motion waste, for example, meant sore feet.

The best waiters and waitresses effortlessly served multiple tables with minimal motion. They added value whenever they moved -- by greeting a customer, clearing a table, or closing out a tab.

Waiting waste meant unhappy customers who wouldn’t come back Conveyance waste meant unnecessary trips to the farmers market to get our meat and produce.

Correction or scrap waste meant making the wrong thing, or overcooking something, and having to throw it out.

Over-processing meant too many steps in a process, so you fall behind -- a killer during the breakfast and lunch rush.

Inventory waste meant carrying more raw materials than you need, which meant either throwing stuff out when it goes bad, or buying a bigger fridge.

Knowledge waste meant wasting your time doing the above when you could be improving the business.

Overproduction -- making more than we could sell -- was unthinkable, a sure way of going out of business.

My parents understand value and waste in their guts, had a deep connection with their customers, and were open to any suggestions for improvement.

As a result, the Imperial Grill thrived against tough competition from national restaurant chains.



In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

Value in an Age of Endless Innovation
The Power of One Page
Strategy in a Time of Explosive Change
The Function of Leaders is to Produce More Leaders