4 Quick Strategy Lessons From The Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair is something my wife and I look forward to every year – it’s very much about the food. And, as a strategy coach for businesses at the idea stage, I can’t help but see the strategic choices being made in most things. The State Fair, is no exception. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, our usual food-filled extravaganza just isn’t possible this year.

So, here’s a trip down memory lane to the before-times – our visit to the Minnesota State Fair in 2019.

This article was originally published in August 2019 on LinkedIn. I’ve updated it here because I believe the lessons are just as – if not more – relevant today.

Also, personally, I just needed some comfort food this week.

As I explored in How to Accept and Overcome Obstacles As You Start Your Business, without the proper navigation techniques, starting a business can also feel slow, frustrating, and full of traps and distractions, leaving new entrepreneurs to question their self-worth and to wonder why they started in the first place.

Strategy is a means to create the future you want while navigating the present. And, right now, there’s a lot to navigate, which makes strategy essential.

With that in mind, here are 4 quick strategy lessons from the Minnesota State Fair.

LESSON 01: PRIORITIZE

First, prioritization is essential in strategy because there will always be distractions.

There are 500+ different food options at the Minnesota State Fair. That means we say “yes” to some things and “no” to other things.

We start by making a list of everything that we need to taste, making sure that it has a balance of classic staples and new, innovative delights.

Then, we prioritize that list to identify our non-negotiable, must-have items.

We consider trade offs (if we eat this, do we really need to eat that?).

We eliminate things that are not exactly fair-exclusive (sorry, pizza, or plain old hotdogs, not today).

And, we also examine constraints, like party size (how many people are joining us? That’s how we determine how much food we can share — and what we won’t).

In the end, we have to make calls about what foods make the cut and which ones we had to pass on this year – mostly because we have limited time, budget, and stomach capacity. 

What does your strategy prioritize?

LESSON 02: MAKE SPACE FOR THE FUTURE

Second, the best strategies carve out space for future-focused or boundary-pushing experiments.

Every summer, we wait patiently for the list of new fair foods to arrive.

We read every scrumptious morsel of text we can get our hands on, imagining what creative flavor twists we’ll soon enjoy.

Last year, we aligned on two new foods to try: deep-fried cookie dough and cheesy-sriracha funnel-cake bites – both were exactly what they sound like and did not disappoint.

Many of the vendors at the State Fair deliberately push the limits of their customers’ expectations, putting their tasty inventions out there for risk-takers and pioneers.

As the saying goes: “great things never came from comfort zones.”

Experimentation will often expand our perspective of what’s possible for a brand or business. 

What are you making space for in your strategy?

LESSON 03: DON’T SETTLE

Third, strategy isn’t about settling or doing what’s convenient or easy.

Strategy should, instead, be a bold declaration about what you believe, reflecting your principles.

Last year was our daughter’s first time at the fair. She was a stroller-bound, food-loving, snuggly little nine-month-old. And, while we love her dearly, she introduced several new variables into our food-filled plans for the fair this year.

Some might say: why not leave the baby at home?

Yes, that’s technically an option – we considered the idea. However, when we reflected on our family motto, “together is better,” the right decision was instantly clear.

When defining a strategy, or designing your life or a business, it’s important to take a step back from what’s convenient for you and make active choices about what you really want.

And, we made the active choice to be together.

Your strategy should reflect your principles, even in the face of mounting new obstacles: nap time, navigating a stroller through crowds, etc. 

What does your strategy say about what you believe?

I'm a strategy for businesses at the idea stage | 321 Liftoff

LESSON 04: ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES

Lastly, strategy isn’t real until the rubber hits the road and you’re in it, doing the work.

Our daughter, Talya, is full of surprises. So, planning around her mood or her nap schedule is directional at best. And, of course, the best plans for our trip to the fair can all go out the window in a moment.

Strategy, too, is tested when plans meet reality.

But, it’s in those moments where leaders – and parents – need to pause, reflect, make a thoughtful choice about how to move forward, and then roll-up their sleeves and take action.

There will always be new variables to consider, new constraints to manage, and new ways your principles will be stretched.

If you wait for the ideal set of circumstances, however, you’ll never get on with living your strategy. 

In case you’re wondering, Talya was an angel that day. She lasted twice as long as we thought she would. So, like most strategies, we benefited from a good plan and a little luck. 

What are you waiting for?

BUILD YOUR STRATEGY

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