There is an old business axiom that has stood the test of time: “Good, fast, cheap… pick any two”. As true as that is in so many situations, it reflects two themes common to the daily experience. The first is the nature of tradeoffs in life and business, and the second is the notion that settling for something less than perfect can often be a good decision. Constraint-based optimization is not always easy, and I remember struggling mightily with linear programming in grad school. Sometimes, the act of settling short of the sublime becomes instinctual or cultural, rather than analytical. That is when optimized decisions give way to quick-and-dirty. Looking critically at the digital out-of-home business, it seems that the pervasive modus operandi is to sub-optimize, to settle, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is due to a lack of awareness of alternatives in approach, business model or technology. Sometimes it is driven by financial constraints. And in some cases, it can be driven by lack of vision or the comfort of living with the status quo. Regardless of the reason, settling rates only above hoping on the evolutionary scale of business strategy.  So as we enter this season of reflection, planning, budgeting and strategizing, here is my holiday wish for the DOOH community: Don’t settle.

Don’t Settle For Adequate: Alternatives for technology, content and services have evolved and improved to such an extent that it is no longer very smart to settle for good enough. While it is nearly impossible to future-proof any effort in the rapidly changing world we live in, it is easy enough to choose a path that gives you a fighting chance. There are enough resources available to help end users make informed choices that will produce results that are far beyond adequate. Remember, adequacy sits at the razor’s edge of inadequacy. On that basis, anyone who settles for merely adequate is likely either lazy or compromised in some way. Settling for good enough in technology, content or services would seem to presume that you have a material advantage elsewhere. I am guessing that would not include linear programming skills.

Don’t Settle For Cheap: There is a distinct difference between something that is a great value and something that is cheap. A great value provides a very high benefit-to-cost ratio, where something cheap is simply inexpensive in a vacuum. In the age of daily deals (ending soon in a junk mail folder near you), price shopping bots and discounts everywhere, it should not be surprising that buyers seem pre-occupied with cost over benefit or ROI. For example, engaging with a qualified consultant is not free, but there is often great value to be realized by the process, perspective and planning advantages a good consultant can bring to the table. Similarly, if hardware, software and content are viewed as commodities, then there is a good chance your network will be valued that way by viewers. Great often costs more than adequate, but may also provide more value when measured against your objectives and long term operating costs. Cheap has a pernicious way of becoming expensive over time, or alarmingly soon after the sale. Two offerings at similar prices may have dramatically different value! If there is one thing that is rare in this business, it is a true apples-to-apples decision matrix for many key purchase decisions. Savvy buyers will take the time to consider the value points in an offering, of which price is merely a component.

Don’t Settle For Survival: The economic backdrop for the past several years has put many industry players in survival mode. Several have not emerged, and few have truly prospered. What is clear going forward is that settling for survival is not going to be a winning strategy for anyone. There are deals to be made, business models to be built, innovations to be imagined and opportunities to be seized that only come about at true inflection points. With DOOH feeling like it is very much at the edge of an inflection, now is not the time to think small. With apologies to Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues, the tide is turning  (although not so slowly), and we are all part of a fire that is burning. Settle for survival, and you risk being a bystander as others build a another day from the ashes.

Don’t Settle, Period: The ethos of settling in itself creates a culture and expectation of underperforming. Think about both great companies and oppressive companies that you know or may have worked for. Chances are you will agree that the great organizations are filled from top to bottom with people who don’t settle for a role, who won’t settle for status quo, and don’t settle for “maybe”. People, companies and even industries that don’t settle have the best chance to advance, innovate and win.

Life and business are indeed full of tradeoffs, and choices must often be made that are not easy. Challenge yourself, your team and your partners to examine decisions made for evidence of settling.  Maybe then you won’t have to settle for a good 2013. Make it a great one.