Goldilocks and the Three Strategies: A Management Fable

Goldilocks was CEO of Golden Honey, a moderately successful start-up. She had built up a nice little brand, including ardent fans in the organic food community, advocates of the allergy-relieving benefits of her locally-sourced honeys, and a growing group of consumers who just liked her products’ fresh flavor. On-line recipe sites were even starting to recommend using her honeys.

Goldilocks knew she needed a real strategy to take the next step with her business.  She needed to decide what kind of company she wanted, how to balance on-line and brick-and-mortar sales, how she would balance financial returns versus building a longer-term role for herself, how to trade off investment for growth versus retaining more control, and lots of other difficult questions. She needed a strategy.

At first, Goldilocks went shopping for guidance on her own.  She found plenty of strategy faith communities, each offering a different path. She tried the Church of Blue Ocean and the Ministry of the Five Forces. She stopped in at the Good-to-Great-to-Greatest-Yet-Hallelujah revival tent. She made a pilgrimage to the Chapel on the Mount of the Matrix. She spent a week at a Co-Creation ashram. She picked dandelions at an Emergent retreat.

Each had its own Prophet. Each had its own killer PowerPoint slide. Each Prophet had expanded their early sermons (usually HBR articles it seemed) into successive volumes of best-selling holy scripture (most with titles that riffed gently on their first book’s title). Each church had its passionate adherents. Each had its useful lessons. And each stop left her more confused than the last.

Despairing, Goldilocks decided she needed professional help. “I’ll go look for a helpful consulting bear,” she said. (She knew consulting bears go where the honey is.) “I’ll ask for some simple clear basics, nothing fancy.” So she sent out a Request for Porridge (RFP) to the bear community.

The first bear she heard from was Directive Bear. He explained that Golden Honey needed to have a strategy focused on a clear outcome, with all the numbers nailed down, steps in place, and variables gamed out. He showed her his methodology; some of the graphics looked remarkably like PowerPoint she’d seen during her strategy church crawl, except the squares had been turned into triangles.  He showed her examples of strategies he had done for other companies. (They all looked suspiciously the same to her, no matter what company or sector they were for.) “Lots of bright shiny objects will pass in front of you and try to distract you from your strategy,” he lectured. “You need clear direction, relentless focus, and impeccable execution. In fact, a mediocre strategy with great execution is better than a great strategy with mediocre execution.” He stared at her intently and delivered his killer pitch: “Investors will love this. Uncertainty is the devil to them.”

Goldilocks dismissed him quickly: “Your strategy doesn’t have any humanity or spontaneity,” she said. “It’s got no room for people or learning. It’s just too cold for me.”

The second bear she heard from was Organic Bear. He asked lots of questions before he told her anything. He wanted to know about her customers, her suppliers, her employees, her landlord, her neighbors, her aunts and uncles – even her bees. He talked about all her different honeys, where they came from, and which ones he liked best in his tea. He showed her his methodology; some of the graphics looked remarkably like PowerPoint she’d seen during her strategy church crawl, except the triangles had been turned into circles. He proposed an on-going process of consultation and engagement that would be part of the Golden Honey identity. “Lots of great ideas will bubble up from the market,” he explained. “Many of your favorite ideas will turn out to be illusory. You are not the market, you are not the suppliers, you are not the customers, you are not the employees. Above all, you are not omniscient.” It’s about the process not the outcome, he explained. “Great outcomes emerge from a great process.” He stared at her sincerely and delivered his killer pitch: “Stakeholders will love this. Predetermined control is the devil to them.”

Goldilocks dismissed him, shaking her head sadly. “Your strategy doesn’t seem to have any substance or solution to it. It’s always cooking and bubbling, it never cools down. It never seems to be done. It’s just too hot for me.”

Exhausted and depressed, Goldilocks reluctantly took a third consultant meeting, this time with Adaptive Bear. He asked some questions and shared some anecdotes. He talked about possible outcomes and paths to those outcomes. “You want to have a clear strategy and clear direction, but you don’t want lock yourself in or opportunities out,” he explained. “The key is to be rigorous but not rigid. You want to be open to opportunities you never anticipated, but not go chasing everything that comes up. A good strategy allows you to evaluate the things that emerge along the way, without assuming in advance what you’ll embrace or reject.”

Goldilocks waited for his killer pitch, but it didn’t come. Finally she asked: “But what about investors? What about customers? What about employees? What about my bees? How do I get a strategy that pleases everyone?”

Adaptive Bear looked at her sympathetically. “A strategy that pleases everyone? Lady, you really do believe in fables.”

Goldilocks fleeing the consultants

[Opinions in this blog are solely those of Scott Nadler and do not necessarily represent views of Nadler Strategy’s clients or partners, or those cited in the post. To share this blog, see additional posts on Scott’s blog or subscribe please go to]

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