Going on the Offensive in an Uncertain World

Seven steps to getting your game face on.

We can see the power of math in upending healthcare, an industry as legacy as they come. As the Affordable Care Act sharply accelerates trends already under way, aggressive companies are using sophisticated software and algorithms to help shape the industry transformation rather than become victims of it.

Des Moines-based UnityPoint Health, for example, is investing talent and funds to build an infrastructure of digitization, algorithms and software that integrates aspects of patient care from various departments and centralizes the collection and analysis of patient data, to which nurses and other providers have instant access.

“The most sophisticated data-mining software won’t replace an intuitive feel for the customer and what he or she really wants.”

4. Still, remember that the consumer holds the key. The most sophisticated data-mining software won’t replace an intuitive feel for the customer and what he or she really wants. The human mind still is unsurpassed at making connections and generating hypotheses that can then be tested. Even the UPS’ sophisticated algorithm-based On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation System was designed to be overridden by drivers when necessary.

A feel for the consumer can only be honed by observing consumers firsthand, as Sam Walton, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and countless others were famous for doing. This is not a quaint pastime; it is a necessity for staying relevant.

5. Get comfortable with uncertainty. Your tolerance for ambiguity and risk will be tested, because going on the offense almost always requires taking action before you have a crystal clear picture of all the factors your success will depend on. As CEO of Thompson (now Thomson Reuters), Dick Harrington was a broad thinker with a finely tuned antennae for picking up signals about the outside world. Thomson, owner of what was then the world’s largest newspaper chain, was still profitable and performing well in the mid-1990s, when Harrington concluded that the rise in Internet usage would inevitably cripple Thomson’s largest source of revenue: the sale of classified ads and display ads in print media.

With the storm clouds still far on the horizon, Thomson prepared to exit newspapers altogether. A defensive mind would have seen gloom and doom in the rise of electronic media and might have sought to buttress the print business. Harrington’s mindset for offense saw the opportunity to build a business based on something new, and put the company onto a new trajectory ahead of others. That does not mean you have to be the very first in a segment; the world doesn’t change the day a technology is invented. But don’t confuse patience with a frustrated desire for certainty.

Barnes and Noble got caught waiting too long to see where online commerce was going, and as a result, lost much ground to its born-digital rival, Amazon.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.