Why Capacity First?

by capacityfirst

Why Capacity First?

by capacityfirst

by capacityfirst

One of the frequent first questions we get from clients is ‘Why Capacity First?’

The inspiration for the idea was an odd little article by Jeremy Shapiro in the Economist. The article’s introduction contained this pithy little quote: “Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk capacity.”

The article was about US Foreign Policy, but I immediately saw it explaining people’s chronic failure to execute in firms all over the world.

Much of what I had ruminated upon for decades was re-framed in a moment.

The quote is a play on an older well-worn version: Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics. There’s a solid similarity in the broader meaning of both.

The core takeaway is that one shouldn’t waste time crafting elaborate strategies if you can’t support them and make them work. We’ve written about this disconnect between strategy and capacity in an article called The Real Problem With Strategy.

Capacity is actually a quite slippery idea. It can, for instance, comfortably be used as a synonym for something as prosaic as ‘capability’.

The professional, in that reading, would be concerned with knowing what he can execute before he started to craft a strategy. That’s similar to John Doerr‘s concept of ‘goal muscle’.

My preferred usage, and arguably Shapiro’s in a militaristic context, is a more interesting and intense idea. It has echoes of Sun Tzu’s idea that “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”.

It is a capacity to dominate the situation in front of you. Dominating your environment to such an extent that the only strategy that mattered was the one that generated the ‘win first’ capacity.

That is, in a nutshell, why we’ve built the company around thinking Capacity First.

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