Monday, April 2, 2007

Strategy or Tactics? Which Wins?

Lauda's Championship Winning Ferrari

Someone I respect greatly once said, "start-ups don't die through a lack of strategy, but poor execution gets 'em every time".

I used to agree strongly with this sentiment, and I think I still do ... sort of. But here's my current take: both can be fatal, it's just that the tactical failures will kill you quicker than the strategic ones.

Start-ups are odd creatures. In many ways, you are much better off if they die young than you are if they are allowed to reach a corpulent middle-age only to find they are still living at home with their parents, have no prospects of getting a real job, and are constantly mooching off their uncle VCs.

Alas, on any given day it's almost impossible to separate the two. It's only with hindsight that the difference becomes clear and allow you to get some sort of perspective on what went well vs. what failed tactically, and where it was the overall strategy that was lacking (or not).

Anyone who thinks the start-up world looks, acts or feels like an MBA case-study has never, ever experienced the real thing. Indeed, I seriously question the net worth of an MBA at all these days versus, say, the value of time-spent inside almost any company with the opportunity to watch how things work - or don't - in the real world.

Look at it this way: Who would you rather have behind the wheel driving you at high speed round a track? The guy who has done at least some basic autocross or amateur racing, even if it's in the local corn field, or someone who is a record holder piloting GTA or Project Gotham on a PS3 or XBox?

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