Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 24;   June 13, 2001: Geese Don't Land on Twigs

Geese Don't Land on Twigs

by

Since companies sometimes tackle projects that they have no hope of completing successfully, your project might be completely wrong for your company. How can you tell whether your project is a fit for your company?

Since companies sometimes tackle projects that they have no hope of completing successfully, your project might be completely wrong for your company. How can you tell whether your project is a fit for your company?

Canada Geese like to land on water, though sometimes they will land on ice, snow, or grass, if necessary. They never even try to land on twigs, as sparrows do. They're too big for that, and webbed feet aren't much good for gripping twigs. Canada Geese do some things well, and others less well. Somehow they know what works for them and what doesn't. They stick with what they do well. For goose or gander, a twig landing might be the last dumb move it makes.

Unlike geese, companies sometimes tackle projects that they have no hope of completing successfully. So there's always a chance that your project is wrong for your company. How can you tell if your company is a goose trying to land on a twig? Here are five factors that can keep a project from being the last dumb move your company makes.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese. Photo by Glen Smart, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Organizational experience
Flocks of geese know their territory pretty well. They know from experience where to find food and shelter. Make sure that your project is like something your company has done before. If it's a radical departure, keep it small.
Staff experience
Goslings spend their first summer of life learning from their elders how to be geese. They train hard until they know what they need to survive. Use your experienced people as mentors. Have them show the others, and use every project as an opportunity to transfer skills and to practice. If you don't have enough experienced people, hire more.
Failure shouldn't threaten the enterprise
If a goose did try to land on a twig, it couldn't hold on. It would fall, and it might break a wing or leg. Geese don't try to land on twigs. If you don't successfully complete your project, failure shouldn't threaten the existence of the enterprise. A bet-the-ranch proposition is a bad bet.
When it's time to migrate, migrate
Geese stay in a place as long as it meets their needs. When it gets too cold or too hard to find food, they move on. Even though a project is compatible with what your company has done before, it can still be a mistake if the marketplace has moved on and left the company behind.
Stretch projects should be compatible
Unlike geese,companies
sometimes tackle projects
that they have no hope
of completing successfully
Geese are large, in part, because they eat leaves and grass and have to process lots of food. If a goose wanted to land on twigs, it would have to be small, which would require a change of diet and lots of evolution. "Stretch" projects can help adapt a company to changing markets. But choose stretch projects wisely. A project that's inherently incompatible with what the company already does well isn't a "stretch" project — it's a "break" project.

For more about Canada Geese, visit the Web site of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Horicon National Wildlife Refuge or the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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