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Whatever Happened to Pong?

Optimize Blog - January 22, 2013 - 0 comments

We quote the Frank Black song as our title for this blog as we hear the news that Atari has filed for bankruptcy protection in the US. For those of us old enough to remember, Atari basically created the first video game – Pong. Mesmerized by a black and white screen we would shuffle our ‘players’ up and down trying to keep the ‘rally’ of the square white ‘ball’ going….
For the younger ones amongst you more used to World of Warcraft or some of the other latest generation video games this might seem archaic but when it was launched in bars in 1972 it actually created a coin shortage in the US.
Nolan Bushnell the creator admits that they didn’t even intend to make it – it was designed as a training project for one of his engineers. It was two years later that Pong truly took off when Atari released a version which could be played at home through a regular television set.
Bushnell states that “We had so many more orders than we could fulfill. We had no factory, we had no process, we had no systems in place. And we were young – we were very inexperienced. We were making it up as we were going along.”
Atari is looking to separate from its loss making French parent Atari SA. In a statement, the companies said, “with this move the US based Atari operations seek to separate from the structural financial encumbrances of their French parent holding company, Atari SA”.
The statement went on to say “The Chapter 11 process constitutes the most strategic option for Atari’s US operations as they look to preserve their inherent value and unlock revenue potential unrealized while under the control of Atari SA.”
As strategists we are often asked “where does strategy end and execution begin?” Strategy of course is the bridge between the economics of a market, the processes at the core of a business, and action. To work, that bridge must be built on a foundation of clarity and realism, and it also needs a real operating focus. We frequently come across the discussion around what is more important: strategy or execution, but this is a false dichotomy and a worthless debate.
A great strategy with poor execution will fail and equally, great execution but doing the wrong things will also end in failure. Execution and strategy are interlinked and cannot be separated.
A bit like Bushnell in the Atari early days, we see companies ‘making it up as they go along’ reacting rather than being in control of their own destiny. The bridge between the direction that the company needs to go, the trade-off it needs to make and the action it needs to take is essential. This requires a clear strategic plan underpinned by employees completely understanding their role in the delivery of the strategy and being held accountable for their performance against meaningful goals.
Strategy is the bridge between Vision, Purpose, Objectives and the tactical actions that need to be taken. So strategy and execution go hand in glove…….

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