Choose also what not to do

According to this article in Business Week, the essentials of strategy can be summarized as follows: Ditch the To-Do list and start a Not-To-Do list.


There’s a difference between To Do and To Die For. We tend to forget that strategy is not only about choosing what to do, but also about choosing what not to do.


The article is written with an innovation perspective but the principle applies to all kinds of strategy. Remember what Michelango answered when asked how he could create a sculpture as magnificent as David: “I carve away everything that isn’t David”.


It also applies to how we approach our work in general. I’ve worked with a performance consultant over the years when I was at Levi’s and also at Lego, and I’m still inspired by his approach.

One of his principles is that potential – interference = performance. Interference can be many things but often it’s dressed as a hell-bent focus on tasks. We buzz around all day at the office busy doing tasky stuff, when what we should be focusing on is the purpose and objectives, the bigger goals.


Stephen Covey and others promote the important/urgent matrix and that’s a good tool to create awareness of just how much time we spend on disproportionately time-consuming tasky stuff. But ultimately, it’s the mindset that matters. Gerry, the consultant, would always challenge us to get clear on the purpose of our job and the business and whether a given task was aligned with the purpose. If it was not, bye-bye task.


It’s really hard to do! It’s like taking a leap into the unknown, a leap of faith. What if I don’t do this task, what will happen, what might I miss, will the earth stop turning, will the sun still rise?

And it’s just as hard to choose what not to do as part of a strategy. But it’s among the most important choices we can make. Create a clearing so you can see the forest in there between all the trees. And start chopping.

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