Member Alex Ashton Speaks: Get Binary With Complex Questions

The Challenge:

In the situation at hand, the CEO of a niche technology company had experienced great success over many meaningful years and was seeking insight into the right next move for his organization and himself as a business leader.

If you were in this situation, what would you do?

If I were in a similar situation, I would start by reframing my approach. It’s often helpful for me to force myself to think in a binary way when facing questions with potentially endless outcomes. In this case, the fundamental question for me would be: do I want to get acquired or keep growing as an independent company?

If I were to pursue an acquisition, I would focus my efforts on clearly articulating what the business does and how that is driving value in the marketplace. I need to listen to myself: If I do opt to sell, I would likely no longer work developing the product I’ve built. Instead, I play more of a thought leadership role. Is this what I want?

On the other hand, if I choose not to sell, this decision would allow me to remain true to my core as a creator of innovation. I would also remind myself that deciding not to pursue a path to acquisition doesn’t close the door on a future sale. For example, as I invest in our technology to fuel company growth, this same decision may improve my odds of acquisition down the road.

Now, the big decision. To gain clarity on which path to pursue, I would begin with the end in mind to land on my purpose and vision for the company. I would vigorously engage my business partners and my team to articulate an ideal future state and make sure that our purpose and vision align. Part of this process also asks that I dive into what I want, personally, as a business leader. What do I envision for my life in five years’ time? From these discussions and meditations, I must allow an answer to the binary question to emerge.

Once I’ve made my choice, it’s time to develop a strategy to reach the finish line. To help, I often consider the strategic buckets of “sure things” versus “wild swings.” Sure things are more about incrementally building revenue and market value in a predictable, linear fashion. Wild swings involve making some riskier bets on strategic directions that, if they pan out, would represent a major leap forward for the firm. Finding a balance between sure things and wild swings is key. Something to keep in mind is that making incremental gains can require more marginal effort than the result of a wild swing that leads to transformational change.

Big decisions are never easy—and outcomes rarely go exactly as planned or predicted. However, I’ve found that there is power – and peace of mind – to first taking stock of your purpose and values. Then, simplify your thinking to a binary choice. This process will ensure that you listen to yourself and amplify what matters most.

A piece of advice that I’ve carried with me throughout my career is to remember that the day I plant the seed is not the day I eat the fruit. If I keep planting the right seeds, with some luck, I’ll eventually reap a rewarding harvest. The journey starts now. Best of luck!