Making a choice is strategic, making decisions is endless

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

In the COVID-19 crisis, some businesses were faced with unserviceable debt or cashflow burdens, for which there was no feasible solution but to cease trading. These situations are tragedies for all involved, but if recognised early, may bring some welcome psychological relief, along with the financial closure.

Other small and medium businesses faced more uncertain predicaments over whether to inject personal cash or release financial reserves to ‘wait it out’, or to change the business model to survive.

A strategy of choice provides respite from stress and determines future decisions and positive actions for a period. The question is therefore, how do I find that strategy?

Occam’s Razor is often offered as a decision-making aid to cut through the complex external factors which may not be important to the heart of the matter, find the core issue, the simplest explanation to a problem and choose this one, ignore/‘slash’ through the other more complex explanations - simple it’s done. However, this only works where simple solutions are obvious and it is less helpful for prolonged situations of distress, unless one wants to be hacking away with a razor all day, every day. It is more a tactical decision-making approach for specific barriers, not a strategy.

If we had an infinitely powerful Artificial Intelligence we could feed the world into it and the technology would ‘calculate’ every possible alternative set of actions and present the best result back to us. We don’t have that yet, we can’t even work through every likely course of action in our heads or collectively around a virtual boardroom table over Zoom.

I see the entrepreneur as Captain of a ship on a journey through rough seas, making practical changes in the face of the weather, steering and managing sails constantly, but to a long term strategic objective. For the sailor, there is not just one journey to make, but a series of them, each requiring a strategic objective. In reaching a destination over a long journey, simple is not always best, there may be no simple alternatives. In business, there is a pragmatic approach, which can help us make the best choices to complete our business journey safely and successfully, the Trident.

The Trident provides a very effective way of cutting through complex situations to a set of strategic choices where the single simple best approach of the Razor is not enough. I have used it with many clients and it seems most appropriate for small and medium business owners and leaders, in crisis situations where several choices exist.

Visualise the Trident as being three sharp blades used simultaneously, each one making a different strategic choice for you in your situation. The art of using the Trident is to work through each of three choices, at the same time, so that they stay in a relationship to each other. The best choice is the one that has most positive outcome and provides the most strategic direction for your business and most imporantly, the one that you feel is best for you.

So what are the three sharp points of the Trident? These are chosen by you and the relationship between them is critical . The practice is to choose two extremes and one option in the middle. As you work through the process you will modify these, but must always discipline yourself to maintain only three choices, never more, it’s always a Trident, and each of the points of the Trident must be acceptable to you as an outcome.

For example, one extreme might be to close the business immediately in the best manner that you can minimising losses and personal stress. The other extreme should be the opposite of this (but has to be workable) so, for example, committing resources to change the business model to a sustainable approach that will work both now in crisis and in the future. Then middle choice must also be workable, for example minimising the operation to mothballed status, but with some essential maintenance so the business can emerge at the end of the crisis. Remember you have to define these yourself, my descriptions are only examples.

Once you have set out these basic strategic choices, you flesh them out one by one, as best you can: pro’s and con’s, costs and benefits, operational factors and requirements, marketing and customer issues, etc. It is important to work through these in rotation maintaining the relationship: extreme - middle - extreme.

When you have done all three, in most situations you will find that you already have developed a favourite choice that makes you feel that you have control back in your hands.

In a crisis you may have to do this Trident process and ‘pivot’ more than once to reach your destination. However, it is an approach that will enable you to make the practical tactical day to day decisions of running a business within an acceptable strategy, with reduced stress of unknown burdens pressing down on you at every moment.

As a consultant, coach, mentor and a business owner with my own share of crises, I recommend that you do this with the support of an experienced advisor who can work objectively with you and give you a sense check for your Trident, before you make the cut.

Best of luck and safe journey! Let me know if you want to talk this approach through.