Back to Basics…

Back to basics has to be one of my all time favorite expressions in today’s business, and even, political jargon. 

It’s beautiful!  Things aren’t going the way you’d hoped and along comes a knight in shining armor who proclaims with utmost certainty – “We will get through this time!  We will go back to basics and restore ourselves to greatness!”  Tell me that image doesn’t conjure up Camelot and everything that’s right in this word?

Fantasy land aside, I’ll tell you what I do when I hear that rousing phrase.  First, I laugh a little and then I think, “What the heck happened?” 

That’s right – what the heck happened that things have gotten so off course that we need to go back to basics?  I get the occasional “pivots” or “course corrections” but back to basics can be loosely translated as, “man we have messed this thing up so bad that we just need to stop doing everything and do the one or two things right that made us successful in the first place!”   I think it was Einstein who said, “duh!”  Or what it Plato?

You know the irony behind back to basics is that it is a “historical” problem.  At some point decisions were made, with, what I’m assuming is one, or a combination of the following: good intent, good market information, good vision, etc. Then, for all intensive purposes, it was agreed upon by the necessary stakeholders to take a chance on something knew (except in the case of Facebook when Zuck decided to buy Instagram for $1B without the consent or counsel of his board – but hey, as long as their stock is soaring, we can all agree that the decision was a correct one for FB).  But I digress…

Take HP for example – quintessential story about how two guys revolutionized the printing business out of their small garage in Palo Alto, CA.  Fast forward decades and a new CEO comes in and says something like, “let’s pivot towards a completely different direction from our core competency and here is the data that says we should!”  The board buys in on it, acquisitions to accelerate entry into the new market have been made, and then they realize it was a mistake.  Next, that same board fires the CEO and starts over. 

Enter new CEO – they assess the situation with diligence, (translation – “I’m not going to do what that guy did!”) get fitted for some armor, rent a white horse, and ride in with the “We’re going back to basics” cavalry!  Magical, right?

In all fairness, I believe in taking chances and, at times, playing the greater fool; but, I think we often fail to learn the lessons that history repeatedly tries to teach us. 

First, don’t lose sight of what’s important and what made you successful in the first place.

Second, realize that you cannot be all things to all people (hence the term “core competency”).  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Third, you will not make everyone happy with your decisions.  If you are right, too bad for them.  If you are wrong, well, too bad for you.

Finally, start small towards something new.  Many companies have the concept of “skunk works” projects or they promote “incubator programs” whereby the set aside some money for people inside their organizations to try something new while not losing focus on the current state of affairs.  It’s not only safer but for a myriad of reasons, the right way to approach change.

So remember, the next time you hear, “We’re going back to basics!” be mindful of not drinking the mystical cool-aid and recognizing a problem exists.  Then, do your duty to be part of the solution.

To your continued success…

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