Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast. How about Lunch and Dinner?

Culture Eats Strategy For BreakfastPeter Drucker talked about culture eating strategy for breakfast. Being of Chinese origin, I wonder about lunch and dinner as well. And then tomorrow’s breakfast, lunch and dinner. That doesn’t mean that I have a poverty mentality, it’s just that people of Chinese origin where I come from have this reputation of eating everything that is carbon-based and feasting at every conceivable festival. No, I talk about Culture eating Strategy, not just for Breakfast but for Lunch and Dinner as well, because I know the influence words have on our thinking. Like most people, I like quotes and use quotes in my work. We like to use quotes because they help us seem smarter than we really are. You don’t? Well, I do. Nothing wrong with wanting to put our best foot forward. Just don’t stop there. I talked about this in “Do You Know The Story?” In that post, I put up a definition from the “Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary” that a quotation is “The act of erroneously repeating the words of another.” Now, we may laugh at that, but isn’t it true in many cases? Erroneously repeating the words of another, not so much in form as in substance. I would say that Drucker never meant that we should focus on culture and throw strategy to the four winds. Being who he was, methinks he meant the best-laid plans that Boss can Pen would come to an untimely end; if people just won’t pull with you, they will not want to see it through. We do need to know the story behind the quotes we use so often.

Entrepreneur carried an article by James Clear in 2013, “Forget Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead.” That sparked off this article. James was indeed very Clear in his article, (and my tongue is firmly in cheek) and I’d like to expand on it, if I may. I think it’s important for me to get my own thoughts clear on things like Goals and Systems, which James talks about, because there are other parallels. Strategy and Tactics. Strategy and Culture. Lead Measures and Lag Measures, which I wrote about in “Lead Measures. Lag Measures. So What?” Leaders and Managers. The list goes on and is a clear indicator of our very human preference for oversimplification due to a drastic dearth of Diligence and an overabundance of the trait referred to by Patrick Lencioni as the Avoidance of Accountability. I have just two points to highlight.

1. The Goals determine the Systems.

By that I mean that people, and that includes organizations, have a rather annoying tendency to set goals that aren’t really goals at all. Lose weight? Would that motivate you? How about “changing shape” instead of “losing weight”? Sounds better? Run the Marathon? Lose all motivation to continue training after you have run it? How about simply “maintaining robustness throughout life?” Marathons, after all, do teach us how to endure. Life isn’t only about Marathons, of course, it’s also a series of sprints. It’s also about walking slowly and admiring the view. Actually, life is like a campaign. Different tempi (or tempos, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re from) for different occasions. How about being the preferred vendor for an organization’s IT needs? Is that a goal that would get your people up in the morning, raring to go? Would something like “Enhancing your corporate senses for optimal responsiveness” appeal to you more? It certainly would to me!

I think some people find goals exhausting because they have set the wrong goals. Goals which are not ennobling. Goals that are not positively future-focused and possibility-peripheric (as opposed to possibility-centric. Tell me what you think!) Goals which they have set, not because it’s in their DNA to do so, but because it’s, well, fashionable to set goals. Setting the right, ennobling goals is extremely important. They lift you up and provide you with the energy to formulate systems that will help you get to those goals. What are some ennobling goals you can set for yourself and for your business right now? Write them down!

Unrealistic expectations

2. Forecasting is actually feasible when you know what’s possible and what’s not.

I’ve heard a few people say that setting goals is unrealistic because you can’t tell the future. Well, of course we can’t tell the future, but we certainly anticipate it. We certainly forecast it. If we don’t anticipate the future, how do we catch a ball flying through the air? How do we even walk? I think saying that goal-setting shouldn’t be done because we can’t foretell the future is equivalent to sticking our heads in the sand. Of course we can forecast and of course we can anticipate. We won’t be right all the time, but 70-80 percent is pretty good. Works for me. A culture where people wait for things to be 100% right before taking action is a dead culture. Nothing moves. Anything that does move, is shot down. Setting goals is great because of the level of uncertainty involved, and I do mean Heisenberg. It means taking prudent risk and managing that risk so that the business outcomes you have set for yourself become manageably realistic. So what about all that hoopla about setting BHAGs, i.e. Big, Hairy Audacious Goals? Well, BHAGs are ok, if you make sure they’re made of leather or other good materials. What do I mean by that?

Contrary to what many so-called gurus would have us believe, there is such a thing as an impossibility. Life can only come from life. Life does not arise from spontaneous generation, no matter how organic you try to make it. I agree with Einstein that imagination is more important than knowledge, and even then you’d better find out what the context was when he said it; if he indeed did say it. It is foolishness to indulge in flights of fancy. There is a difference. So, when I say that it is ok to have BHAGs, provided those BHAGs are made of good materials, I mean that it is perfectly ok to have your Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals if they are based on realistic possibilities and not on impossibilities like life arising from inorganic molecules spontaneously. I remember a joke about a Marine exclaiming “Nothing is impossible for me!” only to have his buddy retort “Oh yeah? Try pushing toothpaste back into the tube!” Get the picture?

So, forecasting is definitely possible, provided we are willing to look at the facts right in front of us and make reasonable projections based on impersonal forces and checking for past patterns, especially if conditions are not too different from what they are now and what they were in the past. Go ahead, make your (fore)cast!


Expand your vision. Be willing to zoom in as well as zoom out. Use AND more than you use OR. Focus on strategy and goals, not systems, not culture. Be disciplined to work hard within your systems and within your culture. If you are willing to do this, I will forecast that you, by and large, will be pretty successful. In your business goals. And I dare say in your life goals as well!


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