CMOE Blog authors have written extensively on strategy and the benefits organizations of all shapes and sizes will experience after developing and executing a business strategy. After a while, leaders, managers, and individual contributors may become so familiar with the strategic plan as it is in its current form that they may begin to recognize holes, or voids, in the plan.
In order to make a point, I am going to refer to these holes and voids as strategic spaces. I’m also going to draw on the assistance of a metaphor to help bring the point home.
Hans Lippershey was a German-Dutch lensmaker who is credited with being the inventor of the telescope. Though there is no evidence he actually built the first telescope, he is the first to have applied for a patent (1608). There are a number of stories associated with how Lippershey made the discovery.
One of them describes two children playing with a couple lenses in Lippershey’s shop. The kids commented later that they could make distant objects seem closer when they were viewed through both lenses. I would imagine that this comment sparked a little curiosity in Lippershey’s mind and that he really looked forward to seeing for himself if what the kids claimed was true. We know now that it was true.
Though he never actually built a working telescope, he had to design a telescope in order to apply for a patent. Over the next few decades, many improvements were made to Lippershey’s original telescope design, including the six-power model English astronomer Thomas Harriot used to create a drawing of the moon during the summer of 1609 .
Word of Lippershey’s invention quickly spread throughout the European scientific community inspiring the likes of Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei to build their own versions. Subsequent astronomical discoveries include Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion (1609) and Galileo’s discovery of sun spots, moon craters, and Jupiter’s four moons (1610).
Over the next few-hundred years, knowledge of astronomy grew exponentially. Then, on April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Although initially plagued with numerous problems, by late 1993, the Hubble Telescope was ready to take pictures of the universe we had previously only dreamed of, and it has been doing so ever since.
Take a look at the image of outer space near the top of this post. At first glance, those little balls and shapes of light look like stars of different, varying, and even strange shapes. If you have ever seen the color-enhanced photos of nebulae, dwarf stars, and supernovae released by NASA, you will be familiar with what they look like. You may even agree that this photo looks like all of them combined into one image.
The truth is that this photo contains a glimpse of roughly 1,500 whole galaxies. You read that right—whole galaxies. Hubble Space Telescope scientists allowed the telescope “to stare at the same tiny patch of sky” near where the Big Dipper is found “for 10 consecutive days in 1995. [By comparison, t]he image covers an area of sky only about the width of a dime viewed from 75 feet away.”
Compared to the size of the sky, the width of a dime is a very small space. The light from these distant galaxies travelled an estimated 10 billion years in order to make this exposure possible.
Though the study of astronomy is fascinating on many different levels, you are likely wondering what astronomy has to do with an organization’s strategy or strategic leadership. The application is deceptively simple (here comes the metaphor):
Over time, even the best organizational strategies can stagnate and become almost cliché. Leaders spend a lot of time reminding everyone of their roles and responsibilities, and all of that talk and deliberate action—though exciting in the beginning—can begin to sound like a broken record over time. Working every day on your piece of a strategy can even become tedious and a little monotonous. If you have keyed into the value of executing a strategic plan, you have probably realized that it isn’t perfect.
These imperfections, like the dime-sized hole in the sky, are strategic spaces that may reveal future opportunities. All strategic plans have holes in them. Some of those holes are small and some of them are massive. Regardless of their size, the holes in your strategy likely contain many opportunities.
Take the time to stare at the same tiny patch of sky for a while, or in other words, take a closer look at the holes in the strategy. On closer inspection, you just might find hundreds of hidden galaxies—opportunities that you never knew existed before you took the time to focus in and look. Where there are galaxies, there are strategic opportunities, and those opportunities may well be game-changers for future of the entire organization.