A quote from Jurassic Park has stuck with me over the years (we won’t count how many): “[You] were so preoccupied with whether [you] could that [you] didn’t stop to think whether [you] should.” Oftentimes I associate it with potential avenues we could venture down in science, and I realized this can relate to companies as well.
The story of Mr. Nobel, the newspaperman, is probably a good depiction here. The story goes that Nobel wanted to increase his newspaper profits. He decided that he couldn’t raise the cost of his paper any more than it already was, or it wouldn’t be profitable. How else do you increase profits if you can’t raise price? Decrease cost. He did this by increasing the cost to the newsies (boys who stood on the street and sold the newspapers). I’m sure the scenario went something like this: “Mr. Nobel, sir, if you want to make more money, we could charge the newsies an extra 1/5 a cent per paper.” You could, but that doesn’t mean you should. The result? A non-union strike.
2. Diversification, acquisitions, and mergers.
When strategically deciding your company’s next move, “We could do [fill in the blank]” is not a good enough reason to embark on a new venture. These decisions need to be made based on core competencies, not convenience or availability. Kimberly-Clark did this successfully when it sold off its core business of paper mills and diversified into the paper-made consumer products industry.
3. Technology for the sake of technology
I love the line in Harry Potter when the awful Professor Umbridge says “progress for the sake of progress.” How often do companies love to automate for the sake of automation. I was on a project where the request was to automate the report. This report was already generated, and so we thought we should automate it. Seems logical. Except the end user wasn’t actually using that report anymore. They had designed their own report because that one wasn’t meeting their needs. When implementing technology, automation, etc., it’s important to evaluate what you are really trying to achieve and whether this is the route that will help you achieve it.
I think this analogy of could versus should could (but maybe shouldn’t at this time) be extended to many more areas of business. So I will leave you with this: when you are embarking down the road of could, just stop to ask if you should. Is it the best solution for all the stakeholders (meaning customers and employees as well)? Does it fit into our strategy and our core competency? Will it actually improve things, or is it just really cool?