The Value of Strategic Retreat

How do you plow through difficulties?

Virtually every business owner experiences a time when no matter how much effort he or she puts in, the business doesn’t seem to be making progress. Whenever we stop pushing, it even slides back. Talk about frustrating! And yet we may be doing this to ourselves.

A tale of two different approaches

I used to accompany my grandfather on rides up to our family’s mountain cabin up the Buckhorn Canyon near Rocky Mountain National Park. In the winter, there would often be large snowdrifts across the old logging road. To get through the drifts, my grandfather would simply put the accelerator of his four wheel drive Bronco to the floor and hold it there!

We’d crash into the drift, wheels and tirechains spinning, engine screaming, rocks and snow flying. The Bronco would slowly dig its way down to solid ground, and then the Bronco would leap another few feet forward. The process was repeated until we were through the drift, had to dig the Bronco out, or some mechanical part failed. I can remember many flat tires, a cracked engine block, and even a broken driveshaft. But no matter – we were making progress!

When I was able to drive myself, I had a little VW station wagon that didn’t have the power to go through the drifts, so I had to take a different approach. I would look for the area of the drift with the least snow, gather some speed and drive smoothly forward until my wheels began to spin. Then I backed down the hill to where I could reapply power, stayed in the same tracks, got my speed back up, got further into the drift, and so on until I emerged on the other side. To succeed, I willingly backed down the hill to build up momentum for each attempt.

A lesson for us as business owners?

Many owners reflexively stomp on the accelerator when they feel the business “slipping.” They throw amazing effort, hours, and resources at the problem at hand. While this more often than not gets the business through the problem, it can also exhaust resources and frazzle nerves.

How would it be if we used the backward motion to our advantage instead of fighting it?

To do that, we need to focus on building momentum instead of forward progress at all costs. We can respond to problems by easing off the accelerator and allowing ourselves to move backwards while looking for the right spot to reapply effort. The rocking back and forth can not only get us over the obstacle that’s holding us up, but also allow us to have a steady controllable pace and get to our ultimate destination with people and resources intact!

Actions you can take today

  1. Make a list of three things in your business that are going nowhere or seem to be slipping. Think about where you’d really like to be with these, and in what ways you could “back up to get another run” at getting through. Pick the easiest and try your new approach. When you feel backward motion, don’t panic! Instead, look for the right time and place to apply your effort, stay in the same tracks, and get forward momentum going again.
  2. Spend 30 minutes with your top team to make a list of three things you and the team would like to achieve in the business. Select the most doable one. Spend some time imagining – what series of small successes (like the runs up the mountain) will you need to achieve to get to the overall goal? Take action and chart your course to success! 

Chris Hutchinson

About the Author:  Chris Hutchinson, President and CEO of Trebuchet Group, helps facilitate leadership growth and business success of local and global clients, using a collaborative approach to enable consistent, effective results. He can be reached at

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