Thursday, May 10, 2007

Preparing to fish

I’m as guilty as anyone at regurgitating clichés. “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail” is one (though I do not necessarily agree). Pasteur’s assertion – chance favors the prepared mind – is better and certainly not a cliché.

Which brings me to a story. A virtue of graduate school was the quantity and quality of speakers, particularly the intimacy of interaction and discourse. One Saturday our marketing strategy class was entertained by a music industry executive, the then-CEO of a $1 billion (or so) company. A role model for me and my fellow wannabe capitalists.

At the conclusion of the normal song and dance, the class asked questions. Bread and butter stuff about corporate strategy, financial metrics and modeling, channels, collaborative alliances, employment opportunities, etc.

Then, a somewhat shy classmate raised her hand: “Mr. Music, what do you think about marketing plans and strategic planning?” Good, relevant question; the product of the class was a strategic marketing plan for a real-life company.

The executive’s eyes swelled and shoulders peaked as he disengaged from his desk-side perch.

“You wanna know what I think about plans? Hmmph! The minute the ink’s dry, they’re worthless. All they are is a form of marketing masturbation.”

I caught a glimpse of our professor. He had, of course, invited the executive to speak. He had not, of course, expected this reply. And, the executive’s tail feathers perked, confidence sky-high, propelled by the giggles and smiles of his MBA flock. The class loved it; a new b-school term – marketing masturbation – was conceived.

The take-home? Metaphorically, business is like fishing: you can learn how to fish, you can figure out where to fish, and you can assemble the best fisherman and poles and lures. All of which are antes (how to fish: skills and core competencies; where to fish: market segmentation; fisherman: people; poles: marketing and sales tactics; lures: well-positioned and appetizing products), but none of which matter if you fail to fish. Or fish in the wrong pond. Or use the wrong poles or lures. Or fish with the wrong people.

Another cliché: In a perfect world, it’s “ready, aim, fire.” There are no unknown unknowns; you have the information you need to make a decision. In the real world – whatever and wherever that is -- you often (successfully) fire with a fuzzy aim, prior to being prepared.

Go fish.

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