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Bullets or Cannonballs?

Published August 14, 2013

In Jim Collins’ most recent book “Great By Choice” co-authored with Morten Hansen, he tackles some great leadership principles, including the Bullets or Cannonballs analogy. The scenario Collins laid out used the example of two ships, engaged in battle, trying to figure out how to best approach the other. Of course you can see how this applies directly to the world of leadership.
“A bullet is a low-cost, low-risk, and low-distraction test or experiment.”
Great by Choice, page 96
In this analogy Collins and Hansen define a bullet as a low cost, low risk, and low distraction test or experiment to confront a situation. Contrast this with the cannonball approach and all of the risk, effort, energy, and resources that approach takes and you can start to see how firing a bullet is a much more effective approach that allows you to maximize the effort and return on your investment.
By firing a bullet, or several bullets you have an opportunity to assess your approach. Are you on target to achieve the desired result? Or are you way off base, risking your mission? If you are you can course correct because you have the resources left to do so, but if you fire a cannonball first you run the risk of running out of ammunition or doing unnecessary or unintended damage in your approach to the problem you are trying to solve.
If you waste your firepower, you will erode trust, breed doubt, and never be able to lead your team effectively through the constant challenges facing our world today. Firing a bullet, or several bullets is a much more effective way of testing your ideas before firing the cannonball and committing your entire organization to where you want to take your team.
As a leader which one are you going to fire first?