In 1962-63, I was doing high school in Sacramento, California. I was an American Field Service Exchange scholar. I lived with an American family. The family house was in a cul-de-sac, at the end of the avenue. To enter and exit one had to make a U-turn. Currently my daughter lives in Dallas, Texas. Her house is also in a cul-de-sac. A U-turn is required.
The parliamentarians of Pakistan, both federal and provincial, always have a fixation on words or phrases. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the fixation was on location, location, location (Gateway to Central Asia). Many politicians then became fixated on "Pakistan has four seasons". Hell, most countries have four seasons. So what? The next catch word was "Actionable Intelligence". Most Parliamentarians do not understand what "actionable" means. The current zeitgeist is "U-turn".
Going from point A to point B. The shortest distance is a straight line. But in real life this never happens. There are always barriers, blockades, roadblocks, weather conditions and hundreds of impacting factors. Any leader who cannot adapt or change course is doomed to oblivion. Business schools teach us that "The only constant is change". This has been demonstrated as never before by the Silicon Valley start-ups and the other 'Unicorns' around the world. The corporate world is about two main things: 1. Satisfying the customer; and 2. Making a profit. The rest are all fads - as espoused by Peter Drucker, Porter, Jeffery Sachs and all the 'Gurus' who have amassed fortunes. And the corporate world is about so-called U-turns. Consumer feedback brings an immediate corporate reaction - on pricing, packaging, taste, engineering, technology, delivery, etc. This is not a U-turn. It only shows that they do not lack the necessary business savvy. Companies that ignore consumer feedback, and fail to change, do so at their own peril. Witness what happened to Kodak, Toshiba, Enron and others. Currently, Fracking is upending the mammoth oil industry. The mighty Coca-Cola is slowly losing market share and brand value.
Strategy is derived from a Greek word Strategos. Originally, "strategy" was a military term, then later adopted by the corporate world after WWII. Corporate Strategy was more or less constant for 3, 5 or 10 years (given the corporate planning horizon). Tactics (U-turns) were required on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. Around 2000 the Wall Street types realized that corporate strategy was no longer sacred for a time period. It became a moving target. The fearsome 4 (Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft) saw a convergence of short-term strategy and tactics.
Military strategy goes back to the Sumerian and Indus Valley civilizations. Then Alexander the Great conquered the known world. However, he made one fundamental error. While he was camped in Babylon, he made an effort to amalgamate the Greek and Persian cultures (one might call it the first merger and acquisition: M&A). It hugely backfired because the Greek generals did not want to give up their democratic ways and embrace the top down Persian culture. Alexander was slowly poisoned by his generals and died in 24 days. History books would have us believe otherwise. Hitler had almost conquered Europe. But he fell prey to the usual political deficiency - he wanted to manage the war by himself. He fought an ideological war, against the advice of the German general staff, perhaps the best in the world. Hitler executed 70 of his top generals - including the greatest general of WWII, Ervin Rommell, the Desert Fox. My daughter lives in Vietnam. On my first visit in 2014 I managed to meet General Giap, probably the greatest General of the 20th century. He defeated two great powers - first the French at Dienbien Phu and later the USA. He was the master of U-turns. General Westmoreland, the US Commander, was always confused about his (Giap's) intentions. Nobody called him (Giap) "Mr. U-turn".
Most of the politicians of Pakistan have a limited vision - their village/city, their locality, their province and (maybe) the country. They cannot comprehend the upheavals in the world which require constant rebooting, retooling and rethinking. Currently, in the Middle East, some leaders are doing somersaults, not U-turns. Those politicians who are against U-turns belong in the Smithsonian Museum or Madam Tussauds.
(The writer is the former Executive Director of the Management Association of Pakistan)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020