Tires and Strategic Planning

Every entrepreneur, every small-business owner needs to plan. Planning means making a decision. And making a decision always means uncertainty and doubt—pretty much a whole bunch of second guessing. If you find yourself in such a position–stuck on a decision–maybe this metaphor invoking another metaphor will help.

We needed a new kitchen table. Not at the office. But at home. We had done the research. We had weighed the options. It’s crunch time. It’s time to choose the winning candidate. We discuss the pros and cons of this one, and of that one. We’re at a crossroads. We really like one particular table, realizing though, that once we move–at some undetermined date–into a smaller home, the table might prove too big. Might.

My oh my. What to do?

And then I remember something. 

I’m a big Formula 1 (F1) fan. I love F1. In F1, all teams must, at some point during a race, bring their drivers into the pits (that’s what the garage area is called) to change out their cars’ rapidly deteriorating tires.  Sometimes, these races are held on iffy days. Days that see storm clouds approaching; heavy rain threatening. And so imagine this. You’re a team manager. Your car’s tires are finished, your driver is losing time driving around a racetrack on worn-out tires. You message your driver, “Come in for new tires.” You gaze skyward, rain’s approaching, perhaps very soon. And you need to decide. What type of tire do you put on the car? Tires purposely designed for the approaching rain? Or tires that only work on dry asphalt? A wrong decision might mean disaster for your team’s standing. A bad decision could cost you a win. You swallow hard. you call your driver in, your crew removes the old tires and installs a fresh set. And your driver steers the car back out onto the track.

Now picture this.

This F1 race is broadcast worldwide (as every race is), the TV announcer saw what you had decided. The TV announcer saw you opt for dry-weather tires (actually called “slicks”). The announcer screams into the microphone, “I can’t believe this” He shouts, “Rain’s about to fall, any minute now! Why did that team manager put slicks on that car?”

Every sporting broadcast features  a cool, level-headed and experienced colour-commentator. In F1 broadcasts, the colour commentator, oftentimes a retired Formula 1 driver, is usually there as a foil to the excitable TV announcer. The colour commentator is  also there to offer insight and analysis—to make sense of the events unfolding on the racetrack. 

And it’s at this point, then, that this particular colour commentator cuts off the hyperventilating TV announcer and, in a calm, soothing voice, says, “You always install tires for the current conditions. Always.” 

Get it? Dry tires work well on dry asphalt. Even though it looks like rain is coming, no one knows when it’s actually coming. No one knows for sure that it will rain. And if it does, it might be in two minutes. It might be in thirty. What everyone does know is that the track is currently dry, so given those conditions, the best decision is to go with dry tires (slicks). And, if  conditions change–in two minutes or in thirty– you deal it, which might might mean bringing your car in to change tires again. But for now, it’s dry. So you install tires for those conditions. Makes sense, right?

And so, back to our kitchen table. Using the F1 tire metaphor, we decided to get a table for the current environment, the home we’re presently living in. If and when we move into a new (smaller) home, we’ll make the call on whether a new table is necessary. Makes sense, right?

Now think about this. How many times, as a small business owner, are you faced with a similar decision? How many times are you faced with a similar “this versus that” dilemma. Do I choose A or do I choose B?

And so, the next time you’re faced with an either-or decision, perhaps you might want to think about our Formula 1 metaphor. And determine whether this decision boils down to one of those “Current Environment” situations. Makes sense right?