How to be Agile and Strategically Plan Innovation Without Slowing Down

When we are not on the Appalachian roads with Digital Builders, a creative agency and non-profit cooperative, we are reflecting on my travels, projects, pitstops and coffee shops. Many of our team have been fortunate to have had the opportunities to play the start up game on the field many times, beginning careers in Silicon Valley. We’re writing a series of articles to bring you some real and interesting stories that can quickly give you a basis and tools to start your own strategic planning for growth!


  • Are you solving a problem or enabling something positive?
  • What can you do that is difficult for others to duplicate?
  • What does your business intelligence tell you about growth markets and where your competencies overlap?
  • What will it take to win in your most challenging SWOT analysis?
  • Choose a point on the horizon; where are you going and how are you going to get there?
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Executing While Planning – Anticipating Agile

My very first marketing job in product marketing with a Japanese company. The Japanese way of starting a business or launching a new division or product, is to research and pilot test thoroughly and contribute the results to the detailed out-years planning being done. But then, at a decided upon time or threshold, they STOP. No matter what new and interesting research or pilot test findings may still be coming in – it doesn’t matter – they just STOP and begin executing the plan.

Over the past quarter-century, they had been in the top 10 of electronics and fiber cable manufacturers in the world. During my first year with them, we partnered with the largest aluminum manufacturer to form a new enterprise for optical ground wire manufacturing and distribution (OPT-GW). We spent about 18 months in the in a research state running strategy and setting the foundation, right down to incredibly-focused details about gross margin and profitability curves, KPIs, etc. And then all of a sudden, one day, we just STOPPED…and started implementing.

I’m probably over-generalizing given my having only worked in a Japanese company for a few years, however, I recall vividly the exact moment we switched gears from research to executing the plan. The commitment to stay the course of the plan until a measured point was deemed a success or a failure, was admirable.

“Americans are always planning, always planning …and never implement the plan!” my Japanese boss would always say in a fun jabbing sarcastic way – insinuating that Americans would accomplish more if they’d spend less time at the planning table and more time acting on a plan. For them, having a 100% focus on executing the plan was just as important as achieving the expected results.

Today, quality iteration models and agile process enable us to do both, without compromising strategy and timelines of opportunity. However there is a point where you have to take the leap and implement from where you are and make it work, otherwise you’ll allow new risk into the equation and miss your opportunity in the market.

Good boats of opportunity are always moving. You’re never perfectly ready so it’s best to jump on the boat even if you’ve only got one sock on (it had better be an awesome sock) and then finish fitting the perfect outfit as you’re leaving dock and heading out to open seas.

GO! and then Adapt

The “GO” call is NEVER perfect so don’t wait for it to be. INTERPRET sets the course/direction for your strategic and holistic marketing plan but it begins moving you forward immediately and it one of seven stages that are agile and interconnected, allowing one to iterate along a continuum both planning and execution. It is important that after you have set your goals, asked yourself the right questions before you continue on to innovate and design your go-to-market plan and execute.

Knowledge is powerful; looking in the mirror, asking yourself, your team, and your strategic partners the right questions will help you flesh out and define a sustainable direction, learn from past mistakes and even anticipate the future—depending on what you learn or deem optimal for your business through the various integrations of the 7i Marketing System, which is why I promote it as being highly iterative and agile.

Through knowledge, you gain confidence, which invigorates you to make crucial decisions more quickly. Through this new knowledge and confidence that you will find as you undergo the INTERPRET stage, new insights about how to build, re-build, or tweak your own company foundation will arise, such as ideas about new products or team direction that you hadn’t thought of before.

Ventures take time and money, and you can’t afford to waste either. Use an INTERPRET type of strategic planning stage to get your ducks in a row. Ask the right questions, get your team aligned, perform your research, invest time strategically planning and only then, execute.

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