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Gut Check: How Strong Are Your Discovery Muscles?

14-12-01 Panera

Ron Shaich was already an unqualified success when, in 1998, he saw an opportunity that not too many other leaders would have seen.

Back then, Shaich was the co-founder of Au Bon Pain, a large chain of café bakeries. A few years later, Shaich also began to purchase other properties, including one named Panera Bread.

And then, despite fear and skepticism among his board, investors and partners, Shaich turned the tables on his entire business empire. He sold off Au Bon Pain and some ancillary properties, and focused his entire attention on Panera.

Today, the strategy seems to make complete sense. Panera has grown by leaps and bounds and now boasts a market capitalization of $4.5 billion. It’s stock has grown so much it is now considered one of the best publicly owned restaurant chains in the United States. Back then, however, Shaich said the move to shed stores and focus on Panera was a pretty scary proposition.

“The next few years of selling everything else off but Panera were the most horrible years of my life,” Shaich said in a recent interview with Business Insider. “Au Bon Pain was my first child. It’s only in retrospect that these decisions feel OK. When you’re going through them, if you’re honest, they’re horrible and difficult. Bottom line, I did it. We made the bet on Panera.”

What was the key to success? In the end, it came down to the difference between an organization’s “delivery muscle” and “discovery muscle.”

“Discovery is the language of what could be, of where the world is going,” Shaich told Business Insider. “Delivery is the language of what happened yesterday, of limited risk. And in most companies of that scale, you eventually wake up and realize you have tremendous delivery muscle and no discovery muscle, no ability to regenerate competitive advantage.

“Our job as leaders is to protect and enable leaps of faith, making sure the company is there when the future arrives.”

How many business leaders today spend time exercising their discovery muscles? Based on my own work with leaders at all levels, the answer is not enough.

It’s important to have strong delivery muscles. But that’s about today’s execution.

The most successful organizations are those who are constantly growing and exceeding yesterday’s results, led by leaders with strong discovery muscles.

These leaders are able to look at the ambiguous and ever-changing world in which they lead to discover what others don’t see. They constantly challenge their people to also look forward and see the opportunities in their operating environment.

This week’s Gut Check question asks: How strong are your discovery muscles?

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro is a speaker, consultant, executive at Lee Hecht Harrison, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract now in its third edition.

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