“The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

– Greek parable

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins details a list of companies that have achieved “greatness”. The criteria for great companies, according to the researchers, is that they’ve achieved superior returns over 40 years.

40 years!! Imagine that.

One of the secret sauces is the hedgehog concept. Great companies focus on one big thing and become the best in the world at that.

And then they do that repeatedly. They make it part of their culture and all the minor decisions and priorities in the company. For example, they have one focus area per quarter. Or a maximum of 3 strategic themes for the year. Or a single message delivered in a presentation. They focus and prioritise, over and over again.

Great companies have a process to prioritise – a process they can apply in various situations, and it can be taught.

the CDA process:

There are many prioritisation methods – Eisenhower, ICE, MoSCoW, KANO, etc.

What is shared below, however, is not a prioritisation method; it’s a process. If you can get your process in place, other elements will fit in – the decisions, the actions, the ideas, the capacity.

Like most of these models, it’s not rocket science. Simple principles, applied consistently.

the CDA Process

step 1: capture

David Allen (Getting Things Done) explains a principle that goes something like this: the difference between capturing 95% and 100% of the things in your mind is not 5% – because that 5% keeps churning in your mind like a dirty sock in a washing machine.

Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, calls it Full Capture.

You must lay out all the puzzle pieces on the table before building.

Action: Capture everything that could or should be part of the prioritisation exercise.

step 2: categorise

When looking after a garden, everything from pruning the roses to mowing the lawn needs attention. One is not more important than the other, but they are very different. Mowing the lawn is weekly, business-as-usual stuff; pruning the roses is seasonal, strategically important stuff.

You can’t prune every day, and you can’t mow once in a season. You need to find harmony between categories (e.g. business-as-usual vs. strategically important) over time.

Here’s why it’s crucial: Because you can’t prioritise across categories. There’s no use comparing mowing-the-lawn with pruning-the-roses. But mowing-the-lawn and cleaning-the-pool can be compared.

Action: Decide on a set of categories (e.g. running vs. growing vs. maintaining the business), and arrange items from step 1 into these categories.

step 3: decide

No framework, methodology or process is going to circumvent the decision point. Prioritising scarce resources is the most essential role of a business leader. And this requires a decision.

For more on this, have a look at the decision-making hourglass.

Or use any of the prioritisation methods we mentioned above.

Action: Choose one thing per category. Create focus.

step 4: allocate

Nothing is for free; you need to determine the cost and make a commitment.

Strategic ventures are ventures into the unknown. Difficult as it might be, resources need to be allocated, even where the outcome is an educated guess at best.

Allocate time to plan.

Then, allocate resources to that plan. Maintain the direction, and iterate on the milestones.

Action: Split your resources between categories. Decide how much you’ll invest (time or money) into running vs. growing vs. maintaining the business.

step 5: adapt

Any planning process that doesn’t allow for a dynamic environment is archaic. Environments change, which leads to changing priorities, which will require project plans to change with them.

The “educated” part of an educated guess is obtained through making a decision (it’s like taking a bet), walking the road and then reflecting on the experience. This combination will lead to more accurate predictions over time.

Action: Make a bet, measure the outcome, reflect on the quality of that bet, and go again. Specifically, focus on the amount of resources dedicated to each category, and whether that gets you to where you want to be.

(For more on this, read Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke.)

More options don’t make us happier. Your clients don’t need more options; they need to know what you do well. Your teams don’t need more options; they need to align around one big thing. Your shareholders don’t need more options; they need you to commit and deliver.

If you have questions, we’re always keen for coffee.

Get in touch so that we can brainstorm a few solutions together!

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