Sometimes Zigzagging Works

The inspiration of this article came from two different venues, the Bible and college basketball. In the telling of Exodus. God directs the Israelites  out of Egypt on a zigzag course deliberately, so as avoiding an immediate battle with the Philistines, which they were not prepared to fight in the days after leaving Egypt (Exodus 13:17).  It was a strategic zigzag from a direct route to allow success further down the line.

Oh yes, college basketball. A guard takes the ball down the court. An opposing player stands between the guard and the basket. The guard goes forward, the opposing guard retreats with him.  The guard pauses and zigzags back, with the opposing player still back pedaling. There is now space to make an uncontested shot to the basket.

The strategic and well thought out zigzag or pause is one of the tools supply chain and logistics managers have.  Its use is dependent on understanding what other players in the situation would likely do. Using the zigzag or the pause,  increases your value as a manager to the corporation and is something a computer logarithm is unlikely to be able to do. Here are some examples.

Let’s say you want the firm to pay for a new software which will have the potential to significantly improve your operation.  Assume further, your company is in a temporary cash crunch. If you push the software now to upper management and finance people, they will likely say “no” and that “no” may even prevent future review of the software. So timing your presentation to a better company cash situation will likely improve the chances the software will be funded.

Managers having to put out fires of an operation problem.  Sometimes, if they just wait a few hours,  the situation may be resolved to the customer’s and organization’s satisfaction at lower cost than if do something immediately.  You may take some heat, but if you are ultimately successful, people will remember the success and not the heat.

Probably the best use of the zigzag or the pause is implementing major changes in an organization.  It is normal for people to resist change and by pausing to get buy in the project might work better. An historical example, Abraham Lincoln’s issuing of the Emaciation Proclamation. He might of wanted to do so on day one of his Presidency, but doing this would have lead to his being blamed for the succession of the South. He waited for year and half into Presidency before issuing preliminary documentation in September 1862. He did when he felt the political time was right for issuing the Proclamation, when it had a good chance for success.

In certain situations, if after reviewing what outside parties are doing and/or thinking, a pause or a zigzag in managing a situation may be appropriate.

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