RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.(TheStreet) -- In racing, the car setup is selected based on conditions and results experienced during previous races and practices. Teams also take into consideration how they believe the race will be run: long green runs (no interruptions or disruptions such as bad weather, wrecks and crashes or other conditions including bad tires) or short runs (lots of cautions and red flags).
When the race starts, the team is ready to go. They have a strategy and a plan for execution. They can stick to the plan exactly or shift when circumstances change. Anything can change the nature of the plan: a mistake in the pits, glancing off the wall (or a competitor), getting crash damage from getting caught up in someone else's wreck or equipment failure (the radiator overheats; brakes fail; a valve blows). The plan is not the goal. It merely provides guidance in how the team will react under different scenarios.
One way to think of a business start-up: As a race car on an unpredictable course.
The same is true in business.
Truthfully, in business as in car racing, you never quite know what strategy is going to work, even if you are ahead right up to the final moments of the race. Things can happen right before you cross that finish line. You can be a chump or a champ in the eyes of the fans and the commentators. When the strategy pays off, everyone (at least your fans and team) wins. When you don't win, everyone says what an unnecessary risk you took by whatever strategy you chose.
Hindsight is 20/20; after the race everyone can tell you what you should have done differently. Whether you won or lost, there's always a critical examination of the race. The reality is that taking in information and deciding if it should affect your business strategy is a matter of choice, and sometimes a matter of instinct. The more experienced we are in making decisions, the better those decisions become.
We can have the driver drive as though the car is perfect when it isn't or adjust to conditions and provide feedback. We can change our strategy or hold on to it, knowing we formulated that strategy on the best information. Realizing that championships (market share, profits, revenues, etc.) are not won in a single race, we look at how the current race fits into our long-term objective and plan and act accordingly. We can win a race but lose a season. So when it comes to your business, do you want to simply win a race or be the champion?
Key elements to winning the competitive race:
Have a plan and be prepared to adapt and change it as new information comes available.
Look at the long-term goal and set interim targets for getting there.
Make sure you have sufficient fuel (money) to keep you in the race.
Know when to race hard and when to conserve your resources.
Winning is a function of time and money -- a continuous trade-off between them.
Team, team, team -- it matters who is on your team and how well they do their jobs.
Become No. 1 by setting a goal and making consistent strategic and tactical decisions with that goal in mind.
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Lea Strickland, M.B.A., is the founder of
, a program that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses. Strickland is the author of "Out of the Cubicle and Into Business" and "One Great Idea!" She has more than 20 years of experience in operational leadership in Fortune 500 and Global 100 companies, including Ford, Solectron and Newell.