Is constantly flying by the seat of your pants a sustainable strategy? Can you make it to big wins just by cycling through the trending tactics of the moment? There are many out there who proudly swear by this approach and just wing it. And there are many more who operate on this mantra and don’t even realize it. But the numbers can be deceiving. Let’s take a look at the math and mechanics of this popular approach to business, and see how it really stacks up.

What The Wingers Say – All tactics and seat of my pants is the strategy

Those who live to wing it in business claim that following the flavor of the month is a strategy, that can yield a cumulative competitive advantage over time. The argument is that the advantages of the working solutions you keep accumulate over time.

While the ability to improvise, adapt and overcome is essential, I find fault with that thinking that supports doing it all the time.

It’s theoretically true. If you were really good at selecting the winners from the losers, you could bring together some effective things. The rub, however, is multi-fold:

1. Before you even break it down, this rationale assumes there is no viable alternative.

This is a huge assumption. In order for the 100% tactical 100% of the time approach to be a viable path, it would have to mean that there is no other alternative that offers equal or greater rewards at equal or less risk. 

2. The Winging It strategy depends on them beating the odds, on a regular basis; think monthly and quarterly.

This is like playing Russian Roulette with ⅚ bullets loaded in the revolver. The only difference is that in business, the ratio of business-killing losing solutions is even worse. The market is flooded with 90%+ loser solutions that are unfit for your (or any) business and are ultimately net negative.

3. The Winging-it Strategy requires cycling through a lot of losers quickly, at a minimal loss. 

Discerning the right solution becomes more untenable without the compass of an overarching strategy to guide your shopping efforts. The wingers are banking on their ability to sort good solutions from bad ones by trial and error. To be a sustainable approach, they’d have to do so relatively quickly, since the cost of investing in losers and duds continue to pile up over time. Further, vendors are clever and owners are often naive especially when it comes to complex systems, software and SaaS models. Years can go by before you realize that you’re ROI negative on any particular deployment of a solution.

tactical solutions often have a short shelf life.

The competitive advantage they offer may last weeks. Your competitors go out buy the same thing as soon as they notice its working for you.

4. More tactical purchases, transactions, interventions leave less time to think, measure, and plan. 

In fact, this strategy leaves no time to plan and leads to reactive copy-cat tactics and mediocre practice, with all the reliability of a drug addict. Since you know you’re purchasing more loser tactics than winners, you’ll have to cycle through them quickly, which leaves less time for analysis, planning, or other responsive and responsible behavior.

5. Life in the fast lane comes at a cost.

Given the speed and quantity of transactions and snowball effects, it’s highly unlikely that a winger will or could take the time to reflect and thus learn enough from any failures and loser purchases.  And the dead and bankrupt businesses rarely have their stories told.

That creates a shopper’s addiction, you shop fast, analyze little, and keep searching for the easy button.

6. The potential upside of 100% tactical approach is almost always small.

Leveraging each tactical integration leads to marginal gains at best. So even though the risks are huge, when you win, you only win small. Who goes into a casino with this attitude? Why does it make sense for business? The bitter truth is, there aren’t a lot of turnkey solutions in the marketplace, that are going to give you some mythical return (despite all the magical marketing claims out there). This isn’t 1998. SEO ain’t what it used to be. Facebook ain’t what it used to be. It all comes back to the real, hard work of critical, discerning, and strategic thought and follow-through to make the right tools work for you.

7. A steady diet of squirrel hunting eventually leads to starvation, not a fat belly. The real leaders learn how to hunt bigger game.

I can’t say that I’ve met a single business owner,  who made it past their 10th birthday chasing the squirrel after squirrel. I’ve never met the long lasting tactical unicorn using this approach, and neither have you. Though many may start that way to survive, if they last long enough, they learn the lesson, and learn how to get strategic, in order to go after bigger game, and improve the business in ways that deliver greater gains.

8. The approach requires a zealous belief in the mythical an easy button to 10x.

Their eyes light up at the notion of simple solutions that deliver amazing returns. And they fall for the same trick over and over again. The emotional and financial roller coaster effects of winging it as a strategy, lead to systemic compromises of integrity for the company, across the board, and the leader running the show. The financial debt snowballs, stress increases, which only further hurts the ability to think and operate clearly.

Bottom Line – This is why you need a strategy, to navigate a deceptive market, and pursue competitive advantages with a longer shelf life. 

It’s true that strategy needs to adapt to the dynamic environment, and tactical improvisations need to be made, but too often, people are winging every aspect of the business. And while I applaud their sacrifice to the economy, it’s not smart business, and it has lead to an increase of cannibalistic, snake-oil business models. Take some time to practice the art of slowing down to balance the energy given to tactic with the energy given to discerning thought. Start small, grow tall.