Bob Lieberman's Blog

Commentary and Tools For Empowering Change

What Is Business Development?

That term came up yesterday in a discussion with a professor of management I recently met. She was describing how executives seem to only be interested in business development (i.e. the tactics of getting more customers), and have no time for creativity. Do you agree?

I'm happy to say I don't. Creativity is strategic, and most business people I've met are interested in both strategy and tactics. It's just that they think they have to choose one over the other. And from that perspective, naturally they choose tactics, because there won't be a strategy if there's no business. I find this ironic, because it is precisely strategy that makes tactics possible. Strategy clarifies tactics, puts them into perspective, and enables them to be more adaptable. Here's a little brain-teaser that illustrates my point:
It's high summer, and you've left Los Angeles in your car. Each day is a new day with an ambitious mileage quota that you've set for yourself. You've gotten off to a late start on your trip, it's midnight the first day, you're low on gas, and no gas stations are open. If you can't find gas tonight, you'll waste several hours of daylight tomorrow morning waiting for a gas station to open. And you'll likely miss tomorrow's quota. You don't think you can afford the setback. What do you do now?
The answer: it depends on where you ultimately want to go. Driving to Phoenix, flying to New York, or taking a ship to Buenos Aires are different strategies for different objectives. If you're flying to New York, maybe you shouldn't be driving a car at all. Or maybe you don't really need to be in Buenos Aires.

Many companies have vague objectives and no strategies. Others have clear objectives and vague strategies. In those environments, tactics are the only points of focus, and they're aimless tactics at that. These companies are pressure-cookers that cause managers to forget all about strategy. And that's precisely why we need leaders – because leaders are the ones who still remember. A leader would not be looking for a late-night gas station. He/she would be getting a good night's sleep. And before doing anything the next morning he/she would be clarifying objectives and adapting strategies.

So the case for strategy, and the creative leadership it requires, is very strong. Leaders are interested in both developing the business (strategy) and business development (tactics). They already know that each makes the other possible. What they need is confidence that they can safely engage in both activities at the same time. Management programs at universities have a responsibility to teach them how. With due respect for my colleague, abdication of that responsibility is just not an option.