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True Grit

True Grit

Conquering new territory is the leader's ultimate challenge. Daring thinking and focused execution are just the beginning of what's required

Stake Your Claim

Once you've found a place with promise, you've not only got to mine it, you've got to protect it at the same time.

Know your extraction strategy. You may have a small vein that is easy to access quickly or a deep, large vein that takes more investment and time to exploit. Whether you learn this early through analysis or only through actual digging, it will determine your overall effectiveness.

Be quiet. For a patent trademark, publication or other means of staking a claim, the general rule is that as soon as you've found something worthwhile, make your claim quickly. But do it quietly. Unless you're in the upward swing of a dotcom-like economic bubble, creating buzz doesn't do anything except alert potential predators. The process of protecting your claim can also push your thinking and enhance innovation. In my most recent commercial venture, formulating a good patent application - where quality is measured by your ability to teach another professional how to build what you've invented - pushed us to a whole new level of quality in our product design.

Know your neighbours. Once you find a place with some value, you'll need to quickly assess the neighbourhood. The people and companies closest to the space you occupy will be the ones you have to coexist with, ally with or fend off. Watch out for partners of convenience. Better to choose a partner once you've really determined what it is you're going to do.

Bank your winnings. As you achieve victories and recover resources, bank your winnings and create a safety net. Don't count on hitting any of your targets precisely. Make sure you're prepared so that if things slow down or unexpected events occur, you aren't forced to give up your claim.

Take it step-by-step. Remember that breaking new and valuable ground combines daring thinking with diligent, disciplined, step-by-step execution. Manage your risks down. Take opportunities that come along. But stay focused on what you're doing now and what your next step will be. Too much focus ahead or too much hindsight, and you might trip and fall.

Know when to stand your ground. If you're lucky enough to develop a new territory, you won't be lonely for long. Others will beg, borrow, copy or steal to get in your space. You'll have to decide whether to fight or move on.

The rewards of breaking new ground are generally uncertain, but the risks are guaranteed. So as a leader, identify the mistakes others have made. Find your central purpose so that you're not disturbed by the ups and downs of the environment. And find your colleagues. The more you reach out and get resources and people involved, the more likely you are to lead your way into your own little gold rush.

Christopher Hoenig has been an entrepreneur (CEO of Exolve), consultant (McKinsey & Company) and inventor, and is the author of The Problem Solving Journey: Your Guide to Making Decisions and Getting Results (Perseus Publishing, 2000). He is now director of strategic issues for the General Accounting Office (GAO) in the US

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