I’m in the US this week at a conference and my jet lag and subsequent insomnia has allowed me to catch up with the latest in US sports. Watching various NFL football games has demonstrated to me that while it’s great to throw the ball 60 yards for a touchdown, such a move carries a huge risk of failure, either through a drop, a misplaced pass or, worse still, an interception.

In American Football the attacking team has four attempts (downs) to move the ball 10 yards. If the team achieves that goal, then it keeps the ball for another four downs and so on. Although the quarter back may look for a killer pass, he’s far better to be focused on hitting the next 10 yards. If he does so, the ball can then move quickly down the field.

In business many companies look for the equivalent of the 60-yard touchdown. Tesco’s US venture, Fresh & Easy, for instance, carried the need for instant success following the company’s decision to rapidly build a chain of over 100 stores. Unfortunately, that success didn’t materialise and the chain is now in the process of being sold at a huge loss to a private equity business.

Meanwhile, one of my clients, Dunelm, has, over the past 20 years built a company that is now the UK’s leading homeware retailer. In the past five years, despite the recession, turnover has grown every year from £420 million to £670 million and profits have doubled to £106 million. Dunelm hasn’t done this with a single pass but by consistently moving the ball 10 yards by improving its offer, opening new stores and building its on-line business.

Where is your business looking to grow through a 60-yard touchdown pass, when it should be looking at hitting a series of 10-yard goals?

© Stuart Cross 2013. All rights reserved.