Changing Course in Business

Dave Pollard tells a story illustrating small business agility. This is from the series on Natural Enterprise.

When 9/11 happened, an entrepreneur in my community near Toronto, who makes modular portable buildings, knew what he had to do. He phoned up a couple of small trucking colleagues — not the big multinational truckers, but guys who, like himself, could turn their businesses on a dime. Within a few hours several truckloads of portable building components, with an assembly crew riding shotgun, were on their way to Ground Zero. Much of the paperwork was written by hand as they were driving. The truckers contacted their customs brokers at the border to tell them what they were doing. Not only were they not stopped at the border like everyone else, they had a personal two-country police escort to hustle them past the traffic jams and across into New York State. When they got to Ground Zero somehow the rescue workers knew they were coming, cleared them space, gave them masks and let them get to work. The buildings were constructed before any of the larger, local competitors had a chance to even react, and they were used intensively for makeshift housing, medical and supply depots for weeks. The company received a special citation from the City of New York. They got a ton of free publicity and their business continues to boom several years later.

Part altruism, part instinct, all improvisation. When interviewed, the president of the small company said “We didn’t even think about it. We just acted. We just kind of made it up as we went along.”

Traditional “strategic” business planning is a cumbersome process that large enterprises do because, if you’re steering a giant unmanoeverable oil tanker, you need to know hours, even days in advance precisely when and how much to turn the wheel or you’ll end up catastrophically off course. Natural enterprise needs to plan, of course, but it has the opportunity, and the strategic advantage, of being able to do so quickly, even spontaneously…. In natural enterprise, you’re not, except in rare cases for a very brief period of time, using other people’s money, and the process of Filling an Unmet Need eliminates almost all the risk of failure, provided you remain extremely agile and alert, draw collaboratively on the skills and judgement of your partners and advisors, and respond quickly and intelligently to changes affecting the business. That’s what improvisational planning is all about.

Link Natural Enterprise