The Gretzky Maneuver
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The Gretzky Maneuver

A hockey stick-shaped curve is every company's path out of the pandemic. The key is staying a slap shot ahead of your competitor's plan.
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I taught Minnesota North Stars hockey players when I was a professor at what is now the University of St. Thomas. I taught the players business skills after their NHL days were over, and they familiarized me with the intricacies of a very fast-paced game.

The only thing I remember from that class is ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky. An accomplished player, he explained his extraordinary acumen this way: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” I have frequently used this declaration as a metaphor for a successful strategy by anticipating a future state and not solely relying on the present conditions or history.

When you play the game with the Gretzky strategy, sometimes—forgive my mixing of metaphors—you find yourself out in left field. So you must be equally adept at hustling to get back in the game.

Covid-19 has disrupted everyone’s plans and expectations. Beyond the enormous loss of life, every business has faced significant disruptions. Entrepreneurs always face risks and even fear as they build their business, but in 2020 it was at a speed and scale never seen in our lifetime. Yet as we highlight elsewhere in this issue, several local small businesses have thrived during this very pandemic.

With vaccines or herd immunity around the corner, every company is skating toward the next normal. In many cases, these plans anticipate a return to some relatable version of the past. More likely than not, the puck is somewhere else.

With vaccines or herd immunity around the corner, every company is skating toward the next normal. In many cases, these plans anticipate a return to some relatable version of the past. More likely than not, the puck is somewhere else. Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell remarked that the economy as we knew it is over: “We’re not going back to the same economy, we’re going back to a different economy.”

Uncertainties will continue, thanks to aspects of the pandemic that are not yet well understood. Entrepreneurs, it behooves you to build up your Gretzky muscle. Creating a company against long odds has already established your credentials as an accomplished player. The best move is to push your organization to experiment with new ideas more quickly, well before the team is entirely comfortable. Test and implement several approaches and institutionalize those that emerge as the most effective. At the same time, keep a keen eye on continually refreshed microdata about what is happening and if there is a need to amend. Plan on near-continuous and instant recalibration. The larger objective is to find, during the crisis, the business model and strategy that is beginning to take hold in the future marketplace.

Ask and engage your entire team for ideas to uncover the new model and strategy for your company. Today the group may be primed to contribute out-of-the-box ideas they may have been reluctant to offer before. The time is opportune to use your looser organizational structure as a distinct advantage for everybody to pitch in and do whatever is needed. The bonus, in the long run, is an agile organization.

Read more from this issue

Two typical critical uncertainties are the future of remote work and your customers’ behavior. Will there be a wholesale shift to remote work in your domain? Will consumers return to their old ways? These are the most important questions to ponder.

This pandemic is not over. You still have an opportunity to gain an advantage over your more established competitors. Many have a structure that has become rigid. Many are likely to spend thought and resources preparing for a return to 2019 normal. Their preoccupation with a traditional approach is your opportunity to score.

Competitive dexterity will define your company beyond this pandemic for many inevitable structural shifts. Playing to where the puck will be is the key to elevating your organization from a competent player to a Gretzky.

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