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Five Misconceptions About Doing Both

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I get a lot of questions about doing both, which challenges those who boil every decision down to this or that. While many have told me how much doing both helps them in their professional and personal lives, others have said they are confused. So today, I'd like to address some common misconceptions.

Misconception No. 1: Doing both is an excuse for not making a decision
Doing both is a decision. It's the conscious choice to pursue two divergent things simultaneously. The idea defies conventional wisdom, which says when confronted with two options it's best to focus on one or the other. In reality though, this is often unrealistic. I can't focus on work to the detriment of my home life. Nor can I strive for technical excellence without considering if what I do has any business relevance. Organizations face similar dilemmas. They can't zero in on growth without considering profits. Nor can they prioritize operational excellence at the expense of innovation. They simply have to do both. And so do you. Now, doing both takes a great deal of energy. It requires deep commitment, careful planning and artful execution. My experience says the extra effort is worth it.

Misconception No. 2: Doing both works only in a robust economy
In good times, business leaders often invest in new initiatives with great promise. This includes new business models that can catapult them into new markets, or geographic expansions that can broaden their horizons. When the economy slows, however, business leaders get nervous. Many look to make cuts. But they rarely factor in the opportunity costs of their actions. When taken into consideration, the price for doing two things instead of one is often worth the premium. Take product development. In the late 1970s, Chrysler began work on its most promising idea in decades, the minivan. Then the economy turned sour. Because the automobile was new and unproven, some thought the company should give up on the disruptive innovation and focus on existing products until the economy improved. But Chrysler forged ahead, doing both. The decision tested the company, but paid off handsomely after the minivan debuted. While it is easier to pursue two different objectives in a robust economy, it can be even more rewarding to do it in a depressed one.

Misconception No. 3: Doing both is only for large organizations
Time and again, I hear business owners say, "My company is small and has limited resources. I can't possibly take on two different things at once." Really? Even single practitioners recognize that they have to play offense and defense simultaneously. Though difficult, success depends on doing both. Take Brickell Motors, a 100-person car dealership in Miami. After 9/11, the CEO noticed that other area dealerships cut back on amenities and investment. Their service suffered and their showrooms aged. So Brickell Motors went on the offensive and remodeled. Then the company started hiring new sales associates and mechanics--the best it could afford. Sales, not surprisingly, rose quickly. But then Internet sites began to challenge its business. While other dealers shut their doors, Brickell Motors went on the defensive and started selling cars over the Web. Today, Internet sales are one of the fastest-growing parts of the company's business. By playing offense and defense both, Brickell Motors has thrived in one of the worst car markets in 50 years. It's proof-positive that you're never too small to benefit from doing both.

Misconception No. 4: Doing both makes everything a priority
Doing both doesn't mean doing everything. The idea that some things are core while others are context remains as true as ever. So by all means distinguish between the two. After you separate core priorities from contextual concerns, you still face difficult decisions. And this is where doing both applies. My advice to business practitioners: don't sacrifice one core priority for another. You can cut back or discontinue contextual things that are peripheral to your overall mission. But when it comes to core competencies, you can't make false choices.

Misconception No. 5: Doing both works only in certain environments
Some companies have a hand in everything--different product markets, geographies, customer segments and more. Difficult decisions constantly arise, so it's easy to see how doing both can help these companies. But what about those who keep things simple--companies with only one business model or product offering? Doing both works for them, too. Every business, for example, needs to fine-tune its operations on an ongoing basis and prepare for the next major transformation. Why? Because business never stands still. What worked in one era is not likely to work in the next. Inevitably, customers' needs evolve. Technologies change. And regulatory reform sets in. When these things occur, organizations must adapt to survive. Those accustomed to fine tuning and reinventing on a regular basis can take on just about anything, I have found.

That includes overcoming the misconceptions of doing both.

Inder Sidhu is the Senior Vice President of Strategy & Planning for Worldwide Operations at Cisco, and the author of Doing Both: How Cisco Captures Today's Profits and Drives Tomorrow's Growth. Follow Inder on Twitter at @indersidhu.