I frequently face a dilemma whenever I drive somewhere. Because of how my brain is wired, that dilemma is solving this question…
How can I get where I want to go in the shortest amount of time possible?
There was a time in my life when I timed various routes to my workplace. I compiled the results in order to find patterns and determine the fastest way to get to work. I figured spending a couple hours compiling results in order to save 5 minutes every weekday would be worth the time. But I digress…
Last week I was preparing to drive from Stevens Point to New Berlin. As I normally do, I popped open my trusty Google Maps application and told it where I wanted to go. I was faced with a quandary when Google returned this result.
I know, I know… I need to find bigger problems to worry about.
There were two routes I could take, and both of them take exactly the same amount of time. Which route should I have taken to get home in the shortest amount of time?
I would be departing at 3 p.m., which means it would be about 5 p.m. as I approached Milwaukee. Although Milwaukee’s rush hour isn’t bad compared to other cities, I still like to avoid brake lights as much as possible. The blue and grey routes both have regular slowdowns that begin roughly 5-10 miles from my destination. Both routes have about an equal chance of hitting a deer.
So I made my decision based on the flexibility of each path. There is variability in traffic for each route, particularly around Milwaukee, so I wanted to be able to get around any potential backups without wasting a lot of time. In other words, I wanted to take the most flexible path. If something unexpected occurred, I wanted to have the flexibility to adjust my route in order to get home in the shortest time possible.
This same principle applies to every day business. Prematurely committing to things reduces your ability to pivot in the future. It’s such a simple concept, but it is often ignored. For example, a company could commit to building a shiny new million dollar software application they’ve been dreaming about by signing a fixed bid contract. But if they wanted to take the flexible path, they could build that application in small pieces. Every time they get a small piece done, they could test it with users to see if it solves the problem its supposed to. They could take that feedback and incorporate it into future pieces that they build. By the time they get done building the application, it might not even look like what they originally envisioned. But it will either be successful, or the company will have found out the application was a bad idea long before spending a million dollars.
This also leaves the door open to pursuing other opportunities in the market that they probably didn’t know about when first decided to build that million dollar application. If a new opportunity arises, the company could simply shift their spending from one product to another. Or they could split the spending among multiple products and pursue multiple opportunities. Either way they will have gained the benefits of taking the flexible path.