Most golfers, myself included, look to hit the biggest shot every time. When we step up to the tee, we pull out a driver.  We whack the ball, hopefully we whack it harder and farther than those playing in our foursome and then we proudly stride up the fairway, planning the next big shot.  We don’t focus on the pin till we need to, on the approach shot.

Tiger Woods used a different approach in 2006 when he won the British Open. Knowing that his highest success in putting was a short, straight, uphill putt – he thought backwards.  Where on the green did he want to putt from? What would be the angle and trajectory his approach shot need to be and where on the fairway should that shot come from? Thinking backwards gave Tiger, still standing on the tee, his tee shot target and what club to hit.

Tiger’s approach was “green-to-tee” thinking as opposed of the typical “tee-to-green” one most golfers use. Woods teed off with four and five irons, clubs that are meant for precise shots at medium range, and hit these tee shots to peculiar spots on the fairway, not necessarily the middle. Johnny Miller, broadcasting that event, called it “clarity of objective” and coined the phrase “green-to-tee.”

There are two views on business strategy. The conventional strategy is to assess and match resources with opportunities. It is the “fit model” of strategy-making, attain a fit between internal resources and capabilities and external opportunities and threats; or “tee-to-green” thinking.  A different point of view is “strategic intent” which takes the long view. The act of such intent is to operate from the future backward, disregarding any resource scarcity of the present. Shaping a challenging vision that stretches the organization beyond its current capabilities. The strategic intent notion helps focus on creating new capabilities to exploit future opportunities.

In the early 1970s an upstart company called Canon set out on a bold intent: “Beat Xerox.” Xerox at that time was the undisputed leader of the copier industry, leasing a wide range of copiers to corporate copy centers through a huge sales force. Canon standardized copy machines and components to reduce costs and sold its offerings through office-product dealers, appealing to people who wanted to own the machines outright. By developing very different capabilities than Xerox’s, Canon created a new recipe for success, and in the process short-circuited Xerox’s ability to retaliate quickly. If Canon had followed the standard approach in the early 1970s, it would have never taken on Xerox.

“Begin with the end in mind” is Stephen Covey’s Habit #2 in his Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.  Develop a clear picture of where you want to go or what you want to accomplish, create the vision.  Think beyond today or what is immediately in front of you.  Stand on the green and decide how “do you get there”, so that each step you take is always in the right direction to support that vision.  “Green-to-tee” thinking with strategic intent creates the alignment of tactics and strategy. It builds your capabilities.

JFK set a daring goal in the early 1960s when the U.S. fell behind the Soviet Union in the technology race: “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” JFK was standing on the green looking back at the tee box.  This viewpoint can produce breakthrough innovation, because performance is a function of expectations. As humans, we are drawn to bold and challenging goals.

The knowledge of this concept is not ground breaking, revolutionary or only attainable by the brightest minds.  Seneca, a Roman philosopher in the first century was quoted “If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is fine.”  Former Yankee and Hall of Fame Catcher (as well as noted quipster) Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”  The Head Football coach knew nothing of ‘strategic intent’ when he built the High School program on the foundation of competing for State Championships and not County Titles.  It is the practice, not the knowledge, of removing yourself from the ‘here and now’ and seeing where you need to be that creates a new and better outcome.

You need to be below the hole for the best chance to birdie it; you need the nation’s buy-in to put a man on the moon; you need to demand the best of your players on and off the field to win a State High School football title.

The important question is do we have clarity in our objective? “Are we using “green-to-tee” thinking in our everyday lives?” Are we standing in life’s tee box, focused on hitting the big drive and all that comes with it?  Are we not worried about that final putt till we need to be?  Or are our efforts on the right pursuit path toward the prize of God’s upward calling in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14)?

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