Strategy, Opportunity and Frogger

by F.

Bill Easterly reviews Strategic Intuition in the WSJ and gives the bottom line:

Set big goals. Do whatever it takes to reach them. These muscular sentences form the core of commencement addresses, business-advice books, political movements and even the United Nations approach to global poverty. In “Strategic Intuition,” a concise and entertaining treatise on human achievement, William Duggan says that such pronouncements are not only banal but wrong.

Mr. Duggan, who teaches strategy at Columbia Business School, argues that the commonplace formula has it backward. Instead of setting goals first, he says, it is better to watch for opportunities with large payoffs at low costs and only then set your goals. That is what innovators throughout history have done, as Mr. Duggan shows in a deliriously fast-paced tour of history.

I’ve not read the book yet, though I skimmed the first chapter and it looks reasonable. This idea, though, that opportunity is largely determinative of success seems right to me. I mean, it’s easy to come up with all sorts of goals. But can you achieve them at a palatable cost? Often the answer is, “No.”

I tend to think of life as game of Frogger. Remember it? From, like, 1981 or something?

You want to cross the stream. But you have to wait for logs (that is, opportunities) to come along. No one log will take you all the way across. So you switch logs when necessary. Yes, you could stand on the south side of the stream and wish you had a helicopter or could fly or had a jet pack. Better, though, to seize the opportunities available.

This is all quite obvious, of course. Less obvious, perhaps, is to remember that this is how you got where you are now. It’s easy to look back and forget the random opportunity that lead to your being where you are. Also obvious but easy to forget is that you want to position yourself at a place in the river where there are a lot of “logs” floating by. Largely this is a function of your social network, it seems to me.

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