If you are a hacker at the game of golf, then your playing partners may have accused you of playing military golf. You know the drill, you hit the ball off the tee and it flies right of the fairway. Then you hit a recovery shot to get back onto the fairway and the ball goes into the rough on the left. Finally, you take aim at the green and the ball flies to the right and into a bunker. This pattern of ‘left right left’ resembles the marching call of soldiers, thus the term ‘military golf’. Despite the extra shots and twisted path of your journey for the day, you successfully arrive at the eighteenth hole along with all of the other more proficient players.
Of course, hitting the ball far and straight will improve your game, save a little time and make you a more ‘successful’ golfer. As you navigate the course, you must constantly adjust your play and your club selection for each fairway, hazard and green. Conditions require a serious of adjustments at every step, including left and right turns to achieve the optimal way forward. Consider a sailboat crossing a bay on a windy day. The boat captain can see the destination three miles away, but a steady headwind blows and water currents shift at various points along the route. If the sailor attempted to steer directly at the target, the forces of wind and currents will push the boat backwards or in different directions, which would slow his progress substantially.
The key to reaching the dock on the distant shore is to make a series of left and right maneuvers, or tacking, to take advantage of the wind and currents for speedy forward progress. Each left and right turn seems to take the boat away from the destination. By carefully considering the target and the winds and currents, the sailor will reach his destination in the most efficient way. This is the reality of life for entrepreneurs navigating the uncertainty of starting up a new venture, launching a new product or entering a new market.
Having a clear and well thought out objective, plans and contingencies is crucial to the successful execution of any new business. Sticking rigidly to that plan as new conditions arise is like turning your boat directly into the headwinds and attempting to push through it. It may be possible to do so, but that usually requires more capital and resources than a startup business can muster. The key is to monitor conditions as you execute your plan and be prepared to make adjustments, or tacking maneuvers, along the way. Initial assumptions built into the plan about market conditions, customer behavior, and investments required for product development, competitors and new technologies will all face a different reality as time goes by.
Entrepreneurs must remain nimble in their approach to executing their plan. Focus on the overall goal and destination for the business and monitor changes in all the key factors that will inhibit, or perhaps even accelerate, progress. Recalibrate plans and next steps and make many left and right turns while focusing on the ultimate destination. Don’t give up when conditions change. Instead, simply find a way around new obstacles. Sometimes this requires different tools, skills and resources. If you have equipped your business golf bag correctly and spent some time at the range practicing, you will be able to reach into the bag for that rescue club just when you need it.