When A Good Plan Goes Bad

Feb 10, 2021
Linear Planning
Planning is always good, right, or is it?!? Planning allows for setting expectations and timelines. Being prepared helps people and organizations reach their goals. Strategic planning in particular dives into evaluating the status quo, determining goal setting, and exploring the metrics to achieve the goals set. It is a great way to be clear on what the goals are and how to achieve them. The process lays out a road map to achievement. How can that be a bad thing?
There is a negative side to strategic planning. Strategic planning is linear. The process creates one the map to one future to follow. This one linear map can blind us to outside threats and even opportunities. Many strategic plans get used like a check list or set of directions to follow. People think the evaluation is done and focus most if not all of their attention on the execution of action items in the plan. That tactic works great when the variables that go into the plan are relatively static. Static is not a word I would use to describe the times we are living in right now! Change is happening at a rapid pace. Our world is increasingly complex and ambiguous. We can no longer make one plan and think we are good to go for the next 3 years. There is no one “official future” for us to follow. Thinking there is sets organizations and people up for failure.
Following the directions of a plan blindly down the road is no longer a viable option in our VUCA world. The blinders have to come off to scan not just the current road for potholes or detours, but the horizon in general for threats and opportunities. Using the road map metaphor, what happens when the road is washed out from a flash flood or the vehicle being driven breaks down. More complicated, what happens if suddenly the vehicle runs out of gas, it is the only gasoline powered car left on the road, and there are no more gas stations because all the “gas stations” have been converted to electric charging stations. Becoming so focused on one set of directions to get to a destination or goal takes attention away from noticing all of the changes happening in the world. This may seem far-fetched, but it can happen to even seemingly innovative organizations.
Kodak invented digital photography, yet it was their inability to effectively embrace the future and take advantage of the boom of digital photography that caused their demise. Kodak suffered from educated incapacity. They were so focused on their own deep knowledge of their industry that it actually blinded them from identifying the opportunities and threats that surrounded them. Read more about their story here.
Does all this mean strategic planning is actually a bad thing? Yes and no. Organizations still need to plan. Planning should include check points along the way, not only at the end. The check points cannot be simply to monitor the progress of the plan. Consistently looking around at what’s happening both internally to the organization and industry as well as externally in the world at large is necessary for continued success.
How is it possible to see into the future and know what’s around the next corner? It’s not. The future doesn’t exist yet. What is possible is using futures thinking and strategic foresight to discover different perspectives; explore not just what may seem plausible or possible, but also what may currently feel provocative; map the ; and create strategies for planning, innovation, and change that create resilience for organizations and people.

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