Under the vibrant afternoon sky, the sun’s golden rays pierced through the verdant canopy of the enchanted forests of Kronoskogen near Ängelholm in South West Sweden. As I ran, the sunlight played a mesmerising dance on the forest floor, casting ethereal shadows that flickered and swirled with my every stride. Amidst the rustling leaves and the pleasant birdsong, I got inspired, and an idea started to grow out of the sunlight filtering through the trees. I got a compelling urge to weave together words into an article, sharing insightful thoughts on strategy, its essence distilled from the profound depth of Robert Frost’s immortal poem:
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Transcending the scope – Business Strategy
Every so often, the world of literature produces a work that transcends its original scope and seeps into other aspects of life, influencing how we see the world. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is a masterpiece that has drawn parallels in various fields, including business strategy.
In essence, Frost’s poem describes a traveller who arrives at a divergence in the path and has to choose which way to go. While both roads appear equally worn, the traveller chooses the one less travelled, which has made all the difference. The traveller urges us to be cautious when making important decisions. One should be very knowledgeable and cautious since our decisions influence our destiny. Furthermore, it is quite tough to alter our minds and begin again once we decide. One wrong decision may haunt us for the rest of our lives. All of this is dependent on the decisions we make now.
This scenario can be viewed as a metaphor for business leaders who often face challenging strategic decisions. Here, we dive deeper into this notion, extrapolating Frost’s wisdom into business strategy.
Decisions at The Crossroads
The poem’s first two lines read: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both.” Business leaders often find themselves standing in the middle of this metaphorical ‘yellow wood’, contemplating two strategic paths. It might be choosing between penetrating new markets or solidifying presence in the existing ones, investing in cutting-edge technology or enhancing current systems, diversifying the product portfolio or narrowing focus on a select few.
Like the poem’s traveller, business leaders often wish they could pursue both paths. However, resources are finite, and decisions that can shape the company’s future course must be made.
The Road Less Traveled
Frost’s narrator eventually chooses the path “less travelled.” In business, this could mean opting for a less conventional, riskier strategy, perhaps even one that has yet to be tried. It could involve disrupting traditional models, pioneering new technologies, or defining new customer behaviours.
I remember an incident when I was having lunch with Dr Watts Humphrey at a software quality conference in Chennai many years back. As we were eating, someone approached him and asked him why he did not suggest using a certain process approach that “most people follow”. Dr Humphrey carefully explained to the person why he did not suggest that. Finally, he said that just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t automatically mean it is the right approach. Leaders choose their path even when nobody else is going down that path. That is perhaps the essence of leadership.
Although daunting, the road less travelled often provides an opportunity to differentiate, enabling businesses to gain a competitive edge. Think of companies like Apple, Airbnb, or Tesla, all of which took the road less travelled, revolutionising their respective industries and redefining market standards.
Accepting the Risk and Uncertainty
In choosing the road less travelled, the traveller in Frost’s poem embraces uncertainty. Similarly, when a business decides on an unconventional strategy, it accepts inherent risks. These could be financial, operational, or reputational.
Business leaders must be prepared to face the potential fallout of their decisions. Of course, here is where robust risk assessment, contingency planning, and agility come into play. Swift corrective action is crucial if a strategy doesn’t work out as planned.
In the two last paragraphs, the traveller realises that the decision cannot be remade – first, “doubted if I should ever come back” and the pain in this fact; “I shall be telling this with a sigh”
The Difference Maker
Frost concludes his poem by stating, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.” The decision to take the road less travelled has a profound impact on the traveller’s life. Similarly, strategic choices can be a difference-maker in a company’s trajectory.
The road less travelled may not promise immediate success. Still, it may lead to unique learnings, new opportunities, and substantial competitive advantage.
In conclusion, like the traveller in Frost’s poem, business leaders often face choices between well-trodden and less explored strategic paths. These decisions, challenging as they may be, are critical junctures that can shape a company’s future. Business leaders must summon their courage, embrace the uncertainty, and boldly forge their unique paths, which could make all the difference.
By delving into literature and extracting wisdom from Frost’s classic, leaders can broaden their perspective, making more inspired and impactful strategic decisions. After all, in the journey of business, as in life, it’s often the road less travelled that leads.
At Gislen Software, we never hesitated to take our path when that was right. We take our way, whether getting solar panels before anyone else, offsetting remaining CO2 and becoming carbon-neutral early, and took the initiative to MEPZ Run, starting a school for underprivileged children and trying out new technologies when needed. Still, occasionally, we also stuck with old when others jumped too early.
So, now it is your turn. Will you also get out in the forest to get as inspired as I was yesterday? Will you also take fresh initiatives even when others don’t follow?