I always enjoy telling the story of consultant/author/futurist Watts Wacker (yes that’s his real name) who would calmly set forth with a discussion and process for Boards of Directors (in Fortune 50 companies) to look forward and ask what their company would need to look like in 500 years.
What would your company need to look like in 2512 in order to be successful?
Your first thought, like many others is that “Wacker must be, well…whacker, deluded, even dangerous… It’s impossible to plan for next year, much less 500 years from now, right? NOBODY knows what the world will be like in 500 years. It is a senseless waste of time.”
But Wacker does it—and it works.
Part of the magic of Wacker’s approach is that his exercise completely changes your frame of reference for what is normal or possible with respect to an appropriate strategic planning horizon. After completing the 500 year task as best they could, the Board would then be told, “OK, now let’s think out 30 years, to 2042.” Suddenly that look into the future seems much more reasonable—even easy—compared with 500 years.
In my opinion, people who argue that “You can’t reasonably plan out more than a year or so” are the ones who are really deluded and dangerous. If this is what you are thinking, two things happen:
- You will never develop any substantive, compelling, game-changing opportunities for your company. You are chaining yourself to the status quo for good or ill.
- You will spend all of your strategic energy reacting, fire-fighting, and managing crises. You will drown in a quagmire of urgent tasks that don’t add up to anything.
I know I mixed some metaphors. That happens when I get emotional. Great leaders, great Boards, true Evolutionaries live in the future all of the time. They are working to build a continuum of strategic objectives that, at every step increase the number of options possible. They are boldly targeting elements that stand as barriers; they are gaining control over parts of their business ecosystem that were previously out of their control; they are establishing foundations for jaw-dropping, game changing, knock-your-socks-off business solutions.
I know what you’re thinking. “Yeah, yeah, yeah… That is a bunch of consultant-speak. Why don’t you wake up and get in the real world where business is really just a gnarly game of trench warfare. Nobody is really able to plan and act that far out in the future.”
All right; here is a great example.
OMG Smokey Blue
If you have never tried cheese from the Rogue Creamery then stop what you are doing and order some immediately. My personal favorite is Smokey Blue. They crush hazel nut shells from an orchard just up the road, put them in their custom smoker which creates an amazing smokey quality in their already stunning blue cheese. I am also a fan of their Touvelle cheese (amazing on pizza or anything else for that matter). And usually my favorite Rogue Creamery cheese is the last one I ate…
David Gremmels and Cary Bryant are literally some of the best cheese makers IN THE WORLD. They have all the awards and certifications to prove it. They beat the French regularly in international blind-taste competitions. I have nothing against the French, but somehow that makes me happy. Their strategy for developing this amazing, consistent, stunning product year after year has been to start way out in the future. And, like wine makers, cheese makers HAVE to be thinking way into the future. Their cheeses need age to develop all of their awesome cheesy goodness.
I have been working with the Rogue Creamery for several years, helping them with their strategic planning. I don’t know a lot about cheese, but I do know that great cheese requires great milk. Some years back there was a hiccup in the reliability of the milk supply to Rogue Creamery. David and Cary said, “We need to ensure the quality sourcing of milk—from an organic, sustainable, top quality dairy. Ideally we would have our own dairy.”
Madness. If you are in the cheese business, the last thing you would think you would want to do is be in the dairy business. But each year the good people at the Rogue Creamery did their homework, made steps to acquire land and talent, and last month Rogue Creamery opened The Palace Dairy LLC and started work to create a state of the art dairy and visitors center. Check it out!
Here is what they said in their announcement:
“Rogue Creamery progresses on its strategic goals! Palace Dairy Farms, LLC is realized. It has been the strategic goal of the Rogue Creamery team members to own and operate their dairy to control the quality of milk and provide guests a agritourism experience. It was over five years ago that this strategic goal was established with Randy Harrington of EASCI. Congratulations!”
Not Their First Rodeo
This not the first rodeo for Gremmels and Bryant; they know that managing and operating a 21st century, top-of-the-line dairy will be a challenge. But check it out: the dairy is not the end-game either. These guys are working to open up a whole new world for interactive, educational, agritourism—and the dairy will be a centerpiece. And the vision goes even beyond that to something about cheese and world domination…
These guys are thinking about their cheese for sure; but they are also thinking about their future, the future for their employees and partners, the future of the region and their community. When you give yourself permission to plan far out in the future, you can make amazing things happen. You can galvanize support. You can knock down barriers. You can systematically increase your options rather seeing them reduced by unforeseen changes in the marketplace.
Adding the dairy will simultaneously change everything and nothing at all. Yes they can make more and different kinds of cheese. They can make and sell whole milk products (if they want to). What hasn’t changed is the long term vision or the commitment to the values that define quality approach that is the Rogue Creamery brand.
I know people learn a lot about business by looking at the Pike Place Fish Market. But I am here to tell you there is much to learn in the bold and steady work of the team at the Rogue Creamery.
The proof is in the product. Order some or go to Whole Foods or another quality grocery outlet and see for yourself.
Congratulations indeed; the Rogue Creamery is actually changing the world.