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A Plan? What Plan?

March 16, 2014 - Ernest Hohmeyer
It’s official: I’m now grown up. My birthday says so.

I can no longer say, “This is what I want to be when I grow up.”

Youth vs. Experience

Yes, I was convinced when I was young that youth was all about making mistakes and exploring. You would be forgiven then for being naive.

As you reached the sage middle age however, is this still acceptable to society? Are you not expected to have your career in full bloom with a perfect blend of spring-time enthusiasm and harsh winter experience?

So how is that working out for you?

I want to do the next exciting thing – except what is that?

Maybe it’s the weather. When I was young it seemed the winters were always cold and full of snow and summer hot and dry. Now, it seems the temperature can change 40 degrees in a heart-beat.

What Plan?

And don’t tell me I need some kind of plan. That’s only for rookies or people going into business, right? Plus, I teach this stuff, I should know.

Anyways, I don’t have time and my questions are more “advanced.”

Planning for my business and family went out the window when I started both.

Yes, this image I had of life getting easier has instead become a world filled with paradoxes.

When opportunity knocks, I’m not so naive it will be all rosy. Yet I am not that old and I can still see a future of new horizons. Taking a chance is filled with more awareness of the craters you can fall into but you are still driven to imagine the possibilities.

I don’t have the patience or the time to come up with one of those gobbledygook “strategic plans.”


In fact, I’m drawn to the opposite in terms of business: instant gratification.

After all, my kids live that way. Think they are going to wait for the answers to their questions or write down a life plan? Heck, they don’t even talk in full sentences anymore. If anything takes more than a couple of seconds like for the water to get hot in the shower – watch out!

Now an article like the one I found in the January-February issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) called to me: “The Big Lie of Strategic Planning.”

Ha, see?!

What's this though a "plan" is not a strategy?

“A detailed plan may be comforting, but it’s not a strategy” is the sub-title of this HBR article by Roger L. Martin. Plans tend to focus on short-term goals, costs and a company’s capabilities he suggests.

He differentiates between planning and strategy. “Planning typically isn’t explicit about what the organization chooses NOT to do and why. It does not question assumptions.” Strategic planning “entails making decisions that explicitly cut off possibilities and options.”

The article talks further about how the process of strategic planning is “uncomfortable” and because of this many “try to turn it into a comfortable set of activities.”

“Reconcile yourself to feeling uncomfortable.”

Oh no.

Challenges & Growth

But think about it.

We ask our kids to think out-of-the-box and even though it kills us sometimes to tell them to go forth and explore.

Aren’t we really saying to them “get uncomfortable,” test yourself, take on new challenges? Isn’t that how you grow and experience life?

Perhaps life is a journey that is not this ascending curve to perfection. Maybe some things I preach to others is good for me too like “keep it simple.” It is okay for me to say sometimes “I don’t know.”

The key may be to do something about it.

And it doesn’t have to be a big “strategic plan.”

I suggest to the small business classes I teach, that you don’t need a 100 page document to have a “good plan.”

Sense & Cents

To me a good plan is first having a dream.

It can be simple like a new product or it can be a new venture. Either way IMAGINE what it could be in all its glory. Don’t worry about the reality of dollars and “sense” in the beginning. Once you have created this vision – another planning word I dislike - then the following parts of your strategy will flush out whether this makes any “cents.”

Too many times, we write plans for the bank or board members and not ourselves. We write it once and don’t use it as a monitoring tool. Sometimes it can be more about what we think and not about who are the customers. If we do this right a good process can help us detect changes in the environment and our customers.

A good plan to me is an action strategy where nothing is assumed, everything is up for questions and the heart of the matter is our customers and bringing them something they “value.”

Get Out of the "Comfort Zone"

Martin writes a good strategy will follow three rules including “Keep it simple" and be concise on "how you will win.” Further,“Don’t look for perfection. Strategy isn’t about finding answers. It’s about placing bets and shortening odds.” Finally,“Be clear about what must change for you to achieve your strategy."

Perhaps my new motto needs to be “break out of the ‘comfort zone”.


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