Living Work

The Silver Bullet Mindset

In my strategy consulting practice, I’ve come across a pattern that I find interesting. It’s what I’ve come to call “silver bullet thinking” – our desire to find the one right answer for any particular problem.

I think this need for one right answer is something we’re born with – which is then further developed in each of us through the years of education we go through. And, finally, when we go to work in a company, especially a larger company, the decision processes further refine this kind of thinking.

But sometimes the search for the silver bullet leads to the wrong outcome – a premature focus on a particular strategy which then gets organizationally committed, funded, and elevated in importance. In my experience, the larger the company, the more likely this kind of silver bullet thinking will dominate.

Yet, when I’ve worked with smaller, more innovative companies, they are less wed to their silver bullet – and more open to a process of on-going evaluation of the strategy based on the feedback from the market. Ideally, they’re able to pursue a couple of different strategies and test the market response to each in the process.

It seems to take a different, more entrepreneurial mindset for this to happen – and might one of the reasons that executives with big company experience find it so challenging to work in small company settings. Learning to be situational – considering when to stay loose and pursue multiple initial strategies vs. binding the whole organization to a single strategy – the silver bullet – may be one of the key leadership skills required of successful innovators.