On the Road Again to a Strategic Aperitivo!!!

My wife and I were recently on vacation. Well, she was on vacation. Although I was with her, unlike my lovely and accomplished bride, my mind was focused nonstop on delivering client value.

As a result, while sipping my 3rd glass of insight one afternoon, I realized how much travel teaches us critical strategic lessons.

The first lesson? Learn to shout, “Take her, not me!!” in the language of whatever country you’re visiting.

I kid, of course; gestures usually work.

But travel also teaches us other lessons. Lessons we can apply to work.

Here are some delicious takeaways from our recent sojourn to Spain (official motto: Why yes, it is time for a drink).

Plan to succeed but prepare to fail.

Adapting to things going wrong while traveling makes the best stories. Unfortunately, at the time, it just sucks. Some examples from Martha and me.

  • Wrong train.
  • Wrong place (time).
  • Wrong street.
  • Wrong restaurant.
  • Wrong (or different) food
  • Wrong (or different) drink
  • Wrong drugs.
  • Wrong money.

Martha is often well prepared for contingencies, while I am prepared to ensure she doesn’t lose me in a crowd. Together, we’ve navigated various hilarious interactions in Asia, India, Europe, and, of course, the good old US of A.

Now, apply this to your organization.

It’s always fun to assume what you are doing will work. What if it doesn’t?   For example, Association Laboratory produces educational events for association executives. While most go off without a hitch (as far as you know), some have been …. what’s the word…. Terrible.

When two people register, we cancel. We are now well prepared to adjust our event strategy based on attendance – which allows us to be prepared for an event that may not be as popular as we think. We have event cancellation insurance. We buy too much booze for the reception in case of overcapacity.

How do you prepare for failure? Do you discuss what likely scenarios look like and how you’ll adapt? Do you educate your Board on these scenarios, so they are prepared? Discussing the most likely scenarios regarding success AND failure is a central strategic activity. 

Build on an earlier foundation.

I love the intersection of historical cultures. Southern Spain has some phenomenal sites where, after the original Muslim conquest and years of Moorish (that’s Muslim) rule, the area was reconquered by Christians. The result is some of the most amazing architecture you will see.

Now, you might think that the Christians, upon retaking these lands, would angrily destroy all the mosques and other architecture.

You’d be wrong. Think of it this way: You now have a completely established foundation, defensible walls, fountains, sewers, etc., just waiting for you upon a particularly strategic high point. Why not just add some crosses and stained-glass windows, adapting it to the new Christian style, and get on with life? Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.

The result? Some of the most amazing places to visit include the Royal Alcázar of Seville, the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba, and the Alhambra in Granada. All these sites are astonishing examples of building on earlier foundations.

What are the foundations of your organization? The processes, partners or competencies developed over time? How can you build upon them?

Every strategy needs renovation.

Often during our travels, we seek out historical buildings. I’ll gaze at a 1,000-year-old church, marveling at all that must have happened. Then I look at the plaque that discusses how the original “burned down,” and the second one was “eaten by giant honey badgers.” Finally, the one I’m looking at was built in 2014.

St. Mark’s Campanile in St. Mark’s Square in Venice is a perfect example. You are looking at an iconic clock tower, just not the original one. The original was built in the 10th century. The current version in 1912. Not quite as cool but still useful.

When you review legacy strategies or old ideas that might not have worked, consider how they need to be updated or refreshed. Just because your meeting is failing doesn’t mean all meetings are failing. You just need to rethink it. In addition, understand the maintenance activities necessary to sustain your strategy over time.

Sometimes, you need a guide.

Martha and I have begun using guides on our travels much more frequently. Sure, we can read books, do research, and seek out signs guiding us all on our own, but that’s less efficient and forces us to go through an unnecessary learning curve.

Why reinvent the wheel when a partner or supplier can point you in the right direction?

When you have determined your strategy, seek out others who have traveled the same road. What would they do differently? What was essential to success?

Know, understand, and embrace your role

Martha has studied several languages over the years, including German, French, and Italian. She even took a smattering of Latin. This makes having her as a travel companion quite useful.

Except for the following. You see, Martha is also more introverted (thoughtful?) than me.

This means I’m the one with my 3-year-old child’s French, who walks up to someone to ask for directions. Normally, I ask or respond in several languages simultaneously, desperately hoping one of them is correct.

I have asked for a horse (by mistake) instead of a beer. I have been asked if I spoke French after asking a person a question in French.

After my initial efforts, Martha can approach, having understood their response, and get additional information. She then normally apologizes for me, explains my behavior away with a story incorporating the phrase “head injuries,” and off we go.

My role? Walk through the door (metaphorical and literal). That’s what extroverts are for.

As a member of a team or partner, understand your role. Are you the marketing person, the finance person, the partner who can access the market, or the one with financial resources?

Without understanding your role, it’s more difficult to contribute. It’s also more difficult for others to help you.

Last Call

Leading your organization and implementing your strategy is never done. There is no end point where you say, ‘Whelp, that’s all there is to do.”

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop and enjoy your hard work, lessons learned, and success.

Find the time to relax, drink a nice drink, and pat yourself on the back. There is a time to work and a time to aperitivo.

Just some thoughts from My Seat at the Bar.