Is the “Red Queen” Running Your Business?

When my girls were young, we read Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. The one scene that sticks in my mind is the Red Queen, telling Alice: “… it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

I can imagine that many businesses today feel they’ve fallen through the Looking Glass. and are running faster and faster, are busier and busier but they’re not getting further ahead. I know I can relate!

It’s a brilliant analogy that’s at the core of this insightful whitepaper called “Escaping the Red Queen Effect in the 4th Industrial Era” by Digital Nexus Associates. It’s a piece I highly recommend reading.

When Alice was running with the Red Queen, she didn’t know she wasn’t getting anywhere until she stopped moving and looked around. She realized that all that running, and churning had no benefit. How often does that happen to businesses leaders? We’re racing at 1,000 miles an hour but not making material headway. It can sometimes be really hard to differentiate pace and progress until you stop and look around.

I started thinking about how you could tell if you’re running on a treadmill or making real progress and came up with a few cues that might help you recognize the signs.

Constant Strategy Churn: When you’re in a constant cycle of strategy, reset, strategy, reset and you don’t have a chance to focus and activate, you’re running and not moving. Constant strategy churn means you are never giving yourself the time to activate and iterate the strategy before tossing it aside and adopting something new. Solution: Give your strategy time to be implemented, activated and starting to show results before leaping into a new strategy cycle.

Seeking Perfection: I think people get so tied up in thinking they have to have the perfect strategy that they’re scared to execute, to engage and move that strategy forward (and meanwhile the business environment is changing around them). The quest for perfection can lead to strategy churn I mentioned earlier. Solution: In this age, nothing is ever going to be 100% perfect. It’s not going to be perfect day one and it’s not going to be perfect on day 100. We’re in a world where there’s a constant evolutionary cycle so you have to get into the mindset that you’re going to iterate, and you are going to continue to iterate moving forward. Accept it and act because inaction can be fatal.

Chasing What’s Next: We all know how advances in technology and innovation are accelerating. It’s tempting to pivot and pursue a new or emerging technology or solution and abandon the course you’re on. This could prompt you to revisit your strategy, reset and change course (which also means you’re not executing on anything). Solution: As I’ve said before, you need to commit to a course and give your strategy time to take root. That doesn’t mean you ignore advances that could benefit your business, but you do need to focus your efforts, so you don’t spread yourself too thin. Sometimes if you’re not making traction, like Alice, you need to step back and take a look around to see if you can identify the reasons you’re constantly churning and not advancing. Ask the tough questions and figure out if you’re doing the right things or just doing things.

No matter where you’re at in the process, you have to engage and be a participant in the process. In the world we live in, you can’t sit on your hands and wait for the next iteration … or it will be off with your head! You’ve got to be able to engage and move forward for survival and business success.

Are you running and running or are you getting ahead? Learn more about how to Escape the Red Queen Effect.