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The Road Not Taken

I was reminded the other day of Robert Frost’s famous poem from 1915 – The Road Not Taken. Frost’s simple, but poignant musings about choice, inertia, and courage have direct relevance to business decisions today. Executives charged with mapping a course of value creation would do well to heed Frost’s own experience. Here’s why.
For all intents and purposes, most executives today find themselves in the woods too – albeit the economic woods – as they search for ways to make their organizations more viable. What choices do they have? What actions do they take?
The choices executives have for creating and capturing value are the same two choices every organization have had since time began. 1) Drive profits through cost reduction. 2) Drive growth through revenue creation. What actions, then, are executives taking today?
The most common choice executives make is to march down the well-worn road of the bottom line. This is the path of saving money – reducing spending and cutting costs. Nothing is spared as costs are slashed from fixed and variable expenses, overhead, and investment spending. Headcount is reduced, raises are frozen, marketing is cut, R&D is trimmed, suppliers are squeezed, and payables are extended. The list goes on and on. Driving value from the bottom line is the clearest and most common choice executives make when faced with the fuzzy conditions of uncertainty. And that is exactly what is happening today as they confront this particularly acute economic downturn.
In the race to the bottom line, however, most organizations sacrifice – if not ignore altogether – the other road to value. That is, the path of the top line. This is the path of growth – of revenue creation, market share, buyer interest, brand allure, momentum, customer loyalty, leadership perception, and brand equity.
The path of the top line is a brave one, which is why it is the road not taken when times are tough. It requires executives to not only hunker down as the storm rages, but to also be prepared for action as the storm abates. This is not the path for the feint of heart. This is the path for the few, the committed, the courageous. 

I have been through three recessions and have worked with dozens of companies in that time. I have studied what organizations have done to enable them to come out the other side as winners. I can tell you without a doubt that you cannot cut your way to sustainable success. The only way to create long-term enterprise value is to commit to the road not often taken. For those executives that choose to commit to an integrated path of efficiency and growth, they will not only stick it to the man, they will also stick it to their competitors.
Economic uncertainty requires being smart and prudent. Yes. But it also requires belief and conviction. Yes. Yes. The time is now to accelerate through opportunity. Go ahead – prepare your organizations. Up the downturn. This course of action will forever make the difference.
My next post will highlight some companies that have taken this path. 


  1. Tom Butta says:

    Various reports indicate a sense of optimism about business prospects in the second half of 2010 on into 2011. While housing starts and job creation are woefully lacking, there is bound to be a bounce sooner or later. Those companies that are preparing now to accelerate through their particular opportunity will be the very companies positioned to win as the dust truly settles. Is that you? If not, what's holding you back?

  2. Jim Mancuso says:

    More simply stated, cutting off your nose despite your face. Being courageous is what it is all about. Believe in your position and standby it. Most others around you will take the position that the masses always believe is best but many times is not.

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