152 The “even more” strategy

03-02-2024

decision-makingleadership and org culture

One year, at our annual offsite, the company leadership shared the mantra for the year: the Genius of the AND.

Quality AND productivity

Core business growth AND new category expansion

Margin AND market share

When conflicts arise between things you want—and they arise all the time in business and life—it is important to have clear tiebreakers. Without tiebreakers, it becomes impossible to seriously pursue goals, in the same sweep, that are at odds with each other.

One tiebreaker strategy, and there are a few of them, is creating “even over” statements. It is something I heard from Aaron Dignan who heard it from Tom Thomison. I’ve boiled it down to a simple protocol.

1️⃣Write a priority (or a core value) for your org (or team) on the right.

2️⃣To its left, write down something that is more important.

3️⃣Trade off the two priorities by adding “even over” between them.

You cannot go wrong with this. What matters (more than what else) depends entirely on what you think is best for your business or team.

For example, you may write,

User growth _even over _unit economics (makes sense if your product has found PMF and is in the early growth stage)

Or, you may write,

Unit economics _even over _user growth (if you have successfully monetized your product, having grown and scaled, and are now in the gravy train phase)

Go through with this exercise and you’ll end up with a series of statements that are true for _your _organization and that will make trade-offs explicit during confusion.

So what about the Genius of the AND? Is it inherently flawed? I think it may be misunderstood and hence mis-applied. There’s a context within which it makes sense. The Genius of the AND helps us break out of narrow choices—the Tyranny of the OR.

I remember understanding it when I was studying how a young Issy Sharp in the 1960s came up with the revolutionary idea of building a hotel chain that was different from anything else in the market. Sharp felt tied down by the choice every hotelier around him was making: basic motel or downtown convention hotel. So he joined the seemingly contradictory paths of amenities and a personal touch in hospitality by creating a chain of medium-sized luxury hotels that married the best amenities with personalized service.

The genius of this brand of integrative thinking came to be the Four Seasons chain.

My distillation has been that a strategy that ignores trade-offs breaks quickly down the ranks. Confused frontline teams, overburdened leaders, and a lot of what I call case-by-case thinking. Integrative thinking or the Genius of the AND is effective but people may mistake it for A + B. It is not. It is creating a third option C that combines salient elements of both A and B but is different from each. It is a kind of creative solutioning.

My firm’s Genius-of-the-AND ask was quality and productivity. In hindsight, we could have used the opportunity to rethink the definition of quality. We used to calculate errors per thousand words in an edited document as the quality metric. Did that matter to our customers? Was there something else that was a truer indicator of value to customers? That confusion could have been an opportunity to explore, much like Issy Sharp understood that business travelers longed for the familiarity of home along with the most modern conveniences.

What are your observations about when the Genius of the AND makes sense and when an “even over” strategy has high value? When should we make trade-offs and pick a side and when should we reject uncomfortable trade-offs and look for creative solutions?

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