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Strategy and Instinct: A Balancing Act

By Byron Middendorf
July 8, 2013

Twenty-eight years ago, Equinox Information Systems existed only in a Lotus 123 spreadsheet. Our “business plan” predicted that in ten years we would be a multi-million dollar enterprise, and the predicted ROI was absolutely through the roof. We thought everyone would have been foolish not to invest in this little startup. In reality, the truth is that based on the “plan” anyone would have been a fool to financially support this startup!

That initial plan was written by a dreamer and a salesman—two of our original partners—who soon moved on to other endeavors. The two of us who remained quickly ignored the plan and focused on bringing in revenue instead of dreaming about it. Today, if you were to compare the company's results to the original plan, it would be deemed an abject failure. However, successful results are not always measured in terms of dollars and cents. Instead, they are measured in terms of relationships and integrity. Looking at the company's accomplishments over the last twenty-eight years, we have: A) turned a profit every year; B) paid our investors handsome returns on their original investment; C) provided world-class software and service to hundreds of telecom companies; D) donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to worthy causes; and most importantly, E) enjoyed our work and the people with whom we work.

The original business plan was the vehicle to which we tied our hopes. Fortunately, we had the good sense to go with our gut and abandon the plan before disaster struck. We stopped reading the plan and started listening to our customers. When a customer or prospect had a problem, we created a solution. We relied on instinct to guide these early transactions. Of course, we needed revenue to keep the business afloat. So we calculated our monthly expenses, and then set our prices to cover those expenses and return a fair, modest profit. Our plan for revenue was as simple as that!

Does this mean I think strategic planning and business plans are useless? Absolutely not! They are wonderful guideposts that have an important role in project/business management and oversight. My experience has taught me, though, that you need to combine a healthy dose of instinct with strategy. In other words, go with your gut as you navigate the guideposts laid out on a strategic plan.

As an example, I have been privileged to serve on the Board of Trustees at my son's school for the last four years. One of my primary responsibilities is to ensure that the administration adheres to a formal Strategic Plan and actively pursues its objectives. Yet, each and every day, the administration must make decisions concerning student issues that are not addressed in any plan, much less the Strategic Plan. In those instances, they trust their experience and instincts. And the students are taken care of and thrive.

Today, at Equinox, we still lay out the plan and trust our guts. So far, it is a winning combination!

About the Author: Byron Middendorf is the CEO, owner, and founder of Equinox Information Systems, where he oversees the company's sales, marketing, implementation, and support initiatives. With over 30 years' experience in the telecommunications industry, Byron provides vision and long-term strategic development for the company and its complete suite of software solutions. Although he enjoys those tasks, he is most passionate about his mission to ensure that Equinox is a great place to work. To learn more, visit www.equinoxis.com or call (615) 612-1200.