Is there ever a right answer in business?

The obvious answers are often wrong. But do we have to make a choice?

by Alaster Dryburgh
Last Updated: 27 Jan 2014

What contributes more to business success: good strategy or good execution? Leadership or management? Luck or skill? You have probably spent time debating these questions, or ones like them.

The problem, though, is that the obvious answers are wrong. These are the same sort of question as 'have you stopped beating your wife?'.

And yet, despite their pitfalls, such either/or questions continue to appeal, partly because they simplify the world and partly because they pander to our preferences. If strategy, for example, is what gets you out of bed in the morning, it's easy to believe that strategy is always the right answer.

There are, however, two genuinely right answers to these questions. They are both very easy, in one sense, and very difficult in another. They are: 'It all depends' and 'Why choose? Have both, or something different from either.'

In the case of strategy vs execution, once you escape the frame of the question it's obvious that it all depends. We can all think of organisations with excellent strategies which fail because of poor execution, and others with fabulous skills in execution but which are doomed because the strategy is wrong.

The 'It all depends' reply is logically easy but psychologically hard work, a horrible answer that runs the constant risk of taking you out of your comfort zone. Its only merit is that it's true.

'Have both' is challenging in a different way. It forces you to somehow stand outside the question, where you might be able to glimpse a bigger solution to a more fundamental problem. It's potentially very rewarding.

You can also apply the 'have both' approach to the question of luck, and make a strategy out of being lucky - I spoke on this topic at a seminar recently.

So, there you have it. Neat but unhelpful answers, or harder, more productive ones. Except that, even then, it's not quite that simple, is it?

Alastair Dryburgh is a consultant and speaker specialising in problems that cannot be solved by normal means. More at

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