Taking the SMaC Approach to Technology
As a big fan of Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice, I’ve inevitably found myself adopting the SMaC concept into my work, as well as advocating it when assisting clients with the architecture of their business models. SMaC stands for specific, methodical and consistent—it’s a set of notions emphasizing a systematic approach to an empirical doctrine. In other words, the outline of your business principles has to be based on reasonable evidence (i.e., history has confirmed that your principles do indeed work) and they must be followed rigorously without hesitance.
But in what way does SMaC relate to your business and its technology purchases? The simple answer is that SMaC can be applied to anything, because it’s a very general regime. You might be running a small business in the Lehigh Valley area, or you might be trying to rule a country—it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, as long as you acknowledge the three attributes of the concept.
The “S” of SMaC stands for specific, but I also believe it ties in well with simple. Your strategic plan for technology purchases should not be too general nor should it be too complex—it’s important to be as definitive as possible about what you need, what you may need in the future, and also what you don’t need and why you don’t need it.
For instance, if you were injecting cash into a disaster plan that required backups of essential technology, you’d want to be specific about which components needed to be on standby, why they needed to be on standby, and which components you could live without for a week or two and why you could live without them. Such a list would also need to be short and simple—a cut-to-the-chase disaster plan that could be easily followed and understood.
Being methodical is about maintaining discipline and endurance, in spite of the changing times (for good or for worse). Although this does sound a lot like being consistent, I distinguish the two here by emphasizing the importance of always respecting your system. A specific and empirical business doctrine is only worth its weight in paper if it’s not followed methodically. You may lose employees, the economy might hit an all-time low, you might spill that cup of coffee on your keyboard, but a change in the times doesn’t have to mean a change in your approach.
Jim Collins references to Southwest Airlines when illustrating the methodical attribute. For over 30 years, the low-cost carrier has been following a strict set of principles (e.g., 10-minute turnarounds and staying out of food service) in spite of economic disasters, competing airlines and other back-against-the-wall situations. Today, it stands as one of the largest operating carriers in the country. If you took a look at their contemporary business principles and compared them to the ones they had in the 1980s, you’d find that roughly 80% of the list remains unchanged.
What does that mean for your own technology purchases? It means stay true to your plan. After all, you did invest all that time and intellect into designing your principles—you might as well follow them!
The third attribute is fairly self-explanatory, but it does have a bit of underlying truth. Consistency ties in with being methodical—you have to follow your approach systematically over a long period of time in order to see results. On the other hand, innovation isn’t eliminated from the equation. You will eventually have to adapt to the ever-changing business world at some point in time. It then becomes a question of when and why.
Collins explains that every business has a threshold of innovation, and that your particular threshold is dependent on the overall advantages of your situation. He uses the biotechnology industry as an example—lacking patent-protected biotechnology products that elicit breakthroughs in the industry makes you a low-level contender (or perhaps not even a contender at all). In this case, the innovation threshold would be high because new steps would have to be taken in order to become a contender. On the other hand, if you had all the right tools, support and a good rapport with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, then your innovation threshold would be low. In this case, changing things up would only deter from the original principles—it would be more advantageous to be consistent.
So if you ever do reach a point where being methodical and consistent about your technology purchases doesn’t seem like the best idea anymore, make sure you take the time to analyze your innovation threshold before making any sudden changes. The trick is to first design a plan that currently stands infallible, and then conserve the infallible qualities for as long as possible, only changing the pieces that are no longer exempt from error.
“When the rhetoric of success (“We’re successful because we do the specific things”) replaces penetrating understanding and insight (“We’re successful because we understand why we do the specific things and under what condition they would no longer work”), decline will likely follow.”
 http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2889 (Retrieved 5-31-2012)
 http://27gen.com/tag/jim-collins/ (Retrieved 5-31-2012)
 http://www.pacificridge.org/podium/default.aspx?t=204&tn=SMaC+Recipe%3F&nid=597182&ptid=119022&sdb=False&pf=pgt&mode=0&vcm=False (Retrieved 5-31-2012)
 http://sfo-blog.typepad.com/sfo-blog/2011/12/have-you-smac-ed-your-company-yet.html (Retrieved 5-31-2012)