I had a great conversation with a great friend recently. She’s getting her MBA, and we got to talking about all kinds of business stuff, but also, about her experience in going through the process of getting such an advanced degree. And after chatting about all the different ways it’s affecting her life, she shared with me one of the most interesting nuggets she’s learned, applicable not only to business and management, but to life:
Every strategy has a tradeoff.
That resonated with me so much. How about you? Have you ever thought of strategy in that way?
It’s funny, because I honestly hadn’t done a ton of thinking about strategy until she started sharing her MBA-focused perspective. It can be such a buzzword, so coldly and ruthlessly incorporated into so many business settings, it just never felt like something that made sense for me. Turns out, I’ve always been focused on strategy in one way or another, even if it was never called by its rightful name. And now, it keeps coming up over and over again in all kinds of conversations. Also, it’s not all that cold or ruthless after all.
Really, every workout plan I’ve ever done was a strategy. Every diet plan I’ve ever followed was a strategy. Every social media marketing content calendar I’ve ever made was a strategy. Every conference I’ve gone to or coach I’ve hired was a strategy. Every relationship I’ve chosen to cultivate or let go was a strategy.
Every single thing we do in life is part of a strategy that leads to an outcome. Every choice we make is a strategic decision. And with each strategic decision we make, we endure a tradeoff.
I really got to thinking about that tradeoff part, and how that’s something that’s been a part of my coaching for a long time. I’ve always been direct in communicating that part of things and encouraging my clients to ask questions about their choice of strategy and cultivate an awareness of the corresponding tradeoffs that will likely occur in its execution.
You choose a workout with intent to achieve a certain result, and the tradeoff is that you have to be dedicated and not miss one. You choose a structured diet, the tradeoff is you’re going to be hungry and not eat out. You choose social media marketing, the tradeoff is you give up privacy and presence IRL. You choose to continue that toxic relationship, the tradeoff is you feel bad.
We can miss that stuff sometimes, which is why I always put extra emphasis on it. Like, do you realize what you’re in for here? And sometimes, in focusing too much on outcomes, we skip the part about getting clear on our meaning and motivation, and we jump right into a strategy without considering all the tradeoffs, which can then mean big life changes we’re not always ready for.
You have to be clear on what your drivers are before you choose a strategy. The key is identifying the foundation of the strategy – what’s at the heart of your choice of process, and why it’s important to you. And it’s not always about the end result or outcome. That’s part of it, to be sure, but what you’re going to have to go through to get there matters too. Why are you choosing this particular approach? How does it align with who you are? Why do this instead of something else?
What makes this strategy worth any tradeoff?
There’s always underlying meaning and motivation. Typically, that’s based on our values, our identity, and what’s important to us in life. Those things might change throughout our lives, but the bottom line is always the same:
Whatever strategy we choose is a reflection of what matters most to us.
It’s just that sometimes, it takes us a while to figure that out. Sometimes, we persist through a few bad strategies before understanding finally dawns on us. But when we’re clear that a certain strategy will lead us closer to that which matters most, the tradeoffs become more palatable. It ends up OK that we can’t have all the things, or that we’ll lose out on one thing to gain another, or we’ll have to put in more work than someone who’s choosing a different strategy.
Personally, now that I’ve reflected on all the strategies I’ve chosen over the years in life and business – and their accompanying tradeoffs, and my reactions to those tradeoffs – in this way, I’m beginning to see that we there’s another layer, and we don’t always give enough attention to this part:
The strategy can change your business or your life, but the tradeoff might rock it completely – and not always in a bad way.
I think sometimes, when the tradeoffs start to come up along the way, we have a tendency to get uncomfortable and go straight to questioning our strategy. We’re tempted to change course immediately to achieve a similar outcome in a different way, sooner, and hopefully with fewer tradeoffs. It can feel like the room is filling up the tradeoffs, leaving no room for any of the benefits and results we’re working toward. But, many times, if we can go back to what matters, those tradeoffs can be seen as benefits in themselves.
I think about where I’m at right now – choosing a strategy based on relationship-building to grow my coaching practice. The tradeoff of doing that vs. some other strategy is a longer-term return vs. an immediate increase in clientele. But, the benefit of that tradeoff is that every single client who partners with me as a coach will be the right fit. And ultimately, over time, I’ll build a business that looks and feels like exactly the right way for me and accomplishes my purpose of helping women find their right way. I know my meaning and motivation in my strategic choices right now, so the tradeoffs I’m experiencing don’t hold as much weight.
I think about my friend and her strategy to pursue her MBA. She’s experiencing tradeoffs like being highly scheduled with virtually no free time, little time to date, and near impossibly high standards for those men she does consider dating. But the benefits of the tradeoffs? Her life feels aligned, she intentionally makes time for what matters, she’s not wasting time dating dudes who aren’t on her level. She was clear on her meaning and motivation in getting the MBA, she knew exactly what mattered to her in embarking on that strategy, totally aligned with her values and vision. That makes the inconveniences feel minor.
I think about my client and her strategy to take a new job with a new company. She’s experiencing tradeoff like lateral pay and being forced to stay in St. Louis for several years, which means additional tradeoffs like lack of dating pool and limited social life options. But the benefit of those tradeoffs is an opportunity to create a new position within this company and gain valuable experience in a new part of the market, which she can then take with her when she moves on to search for new positions in bigger markets in the future. That makes the compromises in other ways passable.
When your strategy is aligned with your values and purpose, your why, your meaning and motivation, the tradeoff takes up less space.
But you have got to be clear on that first stuff before you can get clear on the strategy.
Think about it like this – have you (or someone you know) ever tried a fitness or diet trend? Did it come with a host of tradeoffs you weren’t prepared for and couldn’t see any benefit in? Is it something that’s become a part of your lifestyle? Or did you leave that strategy for another – or none at all – because that strategy wasn’t worth the tradeoff? If I had to guess, your answers are probably yes, yes, no, and yes.
Or maybe, the job front. Have you (or someone you know) ever left a corporate job to start a business? Did it come with a whole host of tradeoffs you weren’t prepared for and couldn’t see any benefit in? Did you keep working to problem-solve and grow the business? Or did you give up and go back to work as an employee because that strategy wasn’t worth the tradeoffs? Again, possibly yes, yes, no, and yes.
These are cases I have seen among plenty of clients and people in my life, and they each have an underlying dilemma – no clarity in the foundation. Motivation and meaning has got to be pinpointed before choosing the strategy, or not only will the result feel hollow, but you might not ever even achieve it because you can’t reconcile or overcome the tradeoffs.
And honestly, it doesn’t even have to be as heavy as all that. Let’s say it’s as simple as choosing a strategy to improve your sleep hygiene. There are plenty of tradeoffs associated with that. You probably have to spend money on some supplements. You can’t watch as much TV at night, so you won’t be able to chat with your coworkers and friends about whatever Netflix series. You can’t work late, and you have to switch to a real alarm clock so you can curb your screen time a few hours before bedtime and keep your phone out of the bedroom. But if you are clear about your motivation and meaning for this – that you’re tired of feeling tired and unfocused all the time, you want to improve your overall health and feel better, and you want to do that in a sustainable way – those tradeoffs will be a whole lot easier to work through, especially as you see them lead to progress toward your desired outcome. You might even start to see them as not so bad, ie: better boundaries with working hours, more meaningful conversation with your friends, less attachment to your phone overall.
Listen, I didn’t say the tradeoffs are always rosy, or that every single one is going to be a benefit. But life is full of strategies, and that’s all about choices and tradeoffs. On the flip side of anything you choose to do is something you won’t be able to do. On the flip side of everything you don’t do is something that might have been. Some of that stuff might be downright stressful, painful, or discouraging.
But rather than dwell on all that, develop an awareness and understanding of what matters to you. Take that knowledge and do your work to put intent into choosing whichever strategy suits you best. Know why that strategy (and its outcome) is worth it, no matter what tradeoffs come up. Trust in your foundation, and no matter the strategy, you won’t feel like every tradeoff you face is a cost.
To the benefits of tradeoffs.
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