I Have A Dream

Towards the end of last year my Dad asked me what he thought I might try and do with the business in 2012. I told him ‘I want to work in America’. ‘How you gonna make that happen son?’ he asked. ‘I dunno yet’ I replied, ‘I just will’.

I turned on my radar and courtesy of Mike VanderVort I spotted an opportunity to submit a pitch to speak at the Florida State HR Conference. I also recalled a brief Facebook exchange with William Tincup about guitars and America, and I had a quick exchange with Steve Browne about maybe doing something down Ohio way. Then Dad died and things went a bit off track for a while. In due course I made my pitch to Florida, thought a little more about what William had said and kept in touch with Steve.

Florida didn’t happen this time. I’ve no idea why – I asked for feedback and got a rather bland ‘Dear John’ type reply. I’ll maybe have another try next year. Ohio is gonna happen and as you all know I’m really excited about that. And other US plans are forming as I write (watch this space).

So what?

Well I could have burned a pile of money and time coming up with a strategic plan on how to do cool stuff in America, and I’m glad I didn’t. I can’t predict the future so at the time of planning I couldn’t have known Dad was going to die, I couldn’t have known that a timely exchange between Steve and I would have developed further. I couldn’t have known a whole bunch of stuff. But if I had invested in a plan, I’d have felt the need to stick with it and justify the time and money invested. Strategic planning drives convergent, fixed thinking. Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant write beautifully about this in their book Humanize which I recommend if you want to go deeper into the pointlessness of strategic planning (and many other interesting things too).

Me? I just had a goal, an ambition. My response to Dad was honest, I had no idea how I would achieve the goal, I just knew it was achievable and if I wanted it bad enough it would happen.

Set Goals. Have Ambitions. Do Stuff. Be Agile.

Follow your dreams. Life is too short for strategic planning.

With thanks to Sukh Pabial, David Goddin and Jonathan Wilson for a provocative conversation on Twitter that got me to writing this.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

15 thoughts on “I Have A Dream”

  1. Doug, Doug, Doug!

    You’ve been poisoned by too much National Utilities corporate “Strategic Planning” as something done by clever buggers in secret that they pour over workers and then blame when it doesn’t work out how they expected. That’s neither strategic nor useful – except as ways to keep boring people away from the rest of us. Fortunately no-one pays much attention to their plans anyway, which are always obsolete by the time they are published.

    Strategy is the art of matching your resources to your environment to achieve your aims.
    It is the second stage of the bridge from beliefs to actions. The first stage is the creation of policy by reflecting on your and other people’s values and beliefs. It can only be done usefully by the people who are going to implement the strategy and it must be iterative and flexible so that people always have, at least a broad answer to “Why am I doing this?”

    Good strategic planning is an exciting, energising exercise that engages people with their true purpose and keeps them mindful of the things they will need to do and the costs they must be prepared to pay in order to achieve what they want to do.

    It is a real tragedy that strategy and planning together have become so institutionalised and stunningly (literally leaving people senseless) executed in big corporations that it has become for so many, exactly as it seems to you.

    But there is a better way! Many better ways! Maybe we could chat about engagement strategy on 27 June at our engagement unconference http://stopdoingdumbthings2012.eventbrite.co.uk/

  2. Congrats on grabbing the brass ring. I need to try a similar tactic for Europe and the UK for next year. I want to tackle at least one international speaking opportunity in my lifetime. Maybe one of these days we’ll connect!

    1. Thank you Mike – once the goal is on your radar let me know and if I can help you to achieve it, I will surely try.

      I would very much like our paths to cross some day.

  3. Hey Doug,

    I get this. And I agree with it too. In fact it’s how I’ve learned that it’s how I make things happen. I’ve been lucky to date in my role that I’ve had the freedom to dictate the path of L&D for the business I’m in free of needing to provide a strategic plan. It’s allowed me to do some interesting projects, some successful, and others a failure. But, in the main, a lot of useful work.

    In my personal life, I also have this attitude, particularly in the last several months, which as you know led to L&D Connect. I have other plans in mind, and quite excited about what they could bring.

    Where I see this becoming really sticky is in organisations where strategic planning is almost a default position to operate from. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. As Robert Weeks mentioned on Twitter yesterday, when those discussions become paralysis by analysis they become pointless. And where those discussions need to be more free is in my mind less about the effort of strategic planning and more about leadership.

    This is a useful discussion as organisations like the fire service will argue that strategic planning is what makes them so effective. Could we rely on their ability to save lives if they didn’t engage in activities and efforts that sit under strategic planning? I don’t think so.

    In big corporates, though, I see it being more about having the right people having the right discussions as opposed to decision by committee.

  4. Great post Doug. Careful though, you will have the “world is flat” mob and the Bureaucracy boys onto you if you are not careful! I’m totally with you and agree with Sukh that it is an interesting question. In response to the fire service example, i think it is “accepted wisdom” that creates this impression. There are some great examples from the military where, in the midst of everything, one or two commanders ditched the strategic plan and went the way you describe. In these cases the strategic plan was not cutting it. Some of these examples are from some of the key points in military events, including recent examples in Libya etc.

    We live in interesting times.

  5. I agree with Doug ……… hang on, I agree with Jonathan

    Actually I want to agree with Doug but life experience tells me I must agree with Jonathan but actually I don’t because it’s not true.

    While strategic and planning are mutually exclusive, the way it does work on Planet Corporate is that Spotty Joe turns up once a year with a trail of Powerpoint and a VP slavishly in tow who wants this strategy (mainly because they will then get the budget to pursue it and a few overseas research jollies – I’ll have another bottle of research please barman). There are a number of wishy-washy discussions about how to execute the strategic priorities which are frankly so vague that you could thrash yourself into oblivion or alternatively do absolutely nothing and still achieve them depending on your interpretation. You get pretty pictures of pillars and bridges and great words straight from the Wiki and BusinessBalls definitions of strategic planning. Then you go into a quarterly budget review, realise that everything has changed and is all over the shop, hit the short term focus button and the strategy document becomes scrap notepaper. So Jonathan – you are so right in your first piece. The problem comes when you ask the “why am I doing this” because the answer is “to hit the strategic agenda” (see vague definitions above to figure out why that can’t work) and the bit between resources and ambition is so true it hurts – except that ambition always goes up (to increase revenues) with resources going down (to save costs) so it is an impossible dream and everything gets outsourced and then the world really does end.

    Now Doug …. you and I both know that you can’t follow your dreams in a company environment because (1) you don’t have time to sleep and (2) it’s all a nightmare anyway. However, we all probably follow our dreams in our personal lives – my wife and I always said we would end up back in Devon and 20 years later, we are. My dream of a work-life balance is slowly coming true. My dream of another desert ultra-marathon will unfortunately never become reality because (1) my wife would kick me out of our dream Devon home and (2) my joints are still knackered after the last one. Two out of three ain’t bad.

    In my view it boils down to control. We all do strategic planning and the methodology is dictated by our level of control over the inputs and the outputs. Doug, you have full control over what goes into your strategic planning and full control over the results which means you can do it how you want actually. For an SME, it will be a possible more structured blend of vision (real vision, not some stupid vacuous phrase that a consultant dreams up for you) and reality because an individual in an SME can still just about see end-to-end. Once you end up in something like a phone network, forget it because you do not have a prayer of seeing the end-to-end impact (or the time to either) and nor does the CEO ….. which is why they appoint Spotty Joe and it all becomes an exercise from Hades.

    Happy Weekend!

  6. I’m not sure if the exchange on twitter (or here) helped but following your lead, I’ve tried to give a sense of what I meant in this blog post today :

    Beyond the parable, I think the phrase “Strategic planning drives convergent, fixed thinking” resonates very well and to be honest describes it’s purpose…

    When you have large groups of people working in a hierarchical structure trying to plan their actions for the coming 12-24 months, you need a strategy and a plan. You need convergence (sometimes thru constructive passionate debate). You need fixed thinking – you are making a decision about actions at a fixed point in time. Then you need adaptability & agility.

    All of this works when the strategic plan is owned by the organisation and when you can demonstrate your willingness to work beyond the plan, especially when things change.

    If there are a few thousand of you in an organisation it’s not enough to just “Set Goals. Have Ambitions. Do Stuff. Be Agile.”…. When it’s me, myself & I then hell, do what you like!

    1. Thanks for your comment and link David. I’m fascinated by your reply and it seems we are at polar opposites on this. I believe that if strategic planning born of convergent fixed thinking will succeed, it will be in spite of, not because of, the plan.

      And I think you are being unfair to large organisations when you say “it’s not enough to just ‘Set Goals. Have Ambitions. Do Stuff. Be Agile.’ ” Just because they are slaves to the way they’ve always done stuff, doesn’t mean they can’t find better ways.

      Cheers – Doug

  7. I tell my clients time and time again, it’s all made up. All of it!

    I’m not a fan of strategic planning per se. I prefer to take the team, put them in a room for two days, and when we come out the other side, we have a plan to achieve an extraordinary goal in 16 weeks. I then coach them through the process. It’s magical and it works.

    The problem with a strategic plan is that too many things can change. It’s important to have a vision and a mission and understand the definition of “winning.” I prefer to chunk it and approach the goal in slices.

    There’s more to say about the process. If you have an interest reach out to me.

    Thanks for writing this post.

    1. Thanks for popping by Steve. Like you I’m all for goals, and chunks, and slices too. You are spot on to say that too many things can, and do change.

      Cheers – Doug

  8. Thanks Doug, like the post. I always get further when I let my goals and dreams drive and put planning in the backseat. Too often goals and dreams aren’t even invited on the trip – (planning hates their music, and gets annoyed when dreams and goals beg to go exploring on side trips.)

    Sometimes I hear “I told you so!” from the backseat. However, following a interesting road not on the map that brings serendipitous opportunity (always a goal for me anyway) and still gets me to my destination ALWAYS shuts planning up.

    Happy driving Doug!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *