Reflections on Strategic Planning

Not all of us truly understand that creating futures ready strategy starts inside us, in our minds, in our worldviews, in our biases, in our tacit beliefs.

Reflections on Strategic Planning

I was a strategic planning practitioner and director for a long time in universities. I have been a futures practitioner and published researcher since 2007, focused until recently on helping people develop futures ready strategy. I am reading a lot of articles about how to develop future (singular) oriented strategies today. How to focus on what matters, to seek out uncertainties and address them. Sometimes articles are about changing your mindset but often just pay lip service to this particular aspect of how strategy is developed. Most stay in the present and don't really move into the somewhat murky space that our many futures generate.

What I have come to realise since I first started using my foresight and futures approaches in 1999 is that not all of us truly understand that creating futures ready strategy starts inside us, in our minds, in our worldviews, in our biases, in our tacit beliefs about what is true and false and in our willingness to open our minds to the preposterous and the unthinkable, and to let our imaginations free. (Sorry for the long sentence there.)

Until we understand that the depth and impact of strategy depends on how we think individually and collectively about our futures (plural) and our ability to stretch our thinking beyond what we know and what we know we don't know, our strategy will likely always be trapped in the present.

We can change our strategy outcomes: use a process that invites everyone in the organisation to participate (it can be done), provide enough time to reflect on the constraints of assumptions about existing organisational futures that shape existing systems, use a deep futures process where multiple perspectives are valued, where our foresight is celebrated and used to find the new in the present to allow us to imagine many possible futures. Explore what those futures mean for action today and  produce a one page strategy document with three to five future oriented goals and nothing else - KISS principle applies here. Use words in that document that your people used in their contributions - seeing yourself in a future being presented to you is very important. Your 'vision' statement should describe your preferred future and horizon year and be one sentence long so people can remember it. I tend to think that a vision statement expressed in more than one sentence represents a clash of worldviews and some closed minds in the people who generated it. And it prevents it being understood and used by people.

I have been saying for some years that strategic planning used as the all encompassing strategy process is well past its use by date, and so are strategy processes that don't provide the time to begin with a deep and reflective process that challenge just how we think about what's possible, why we accept and why we reject some futures, and pinpointing just why we are closing our minds to the power of our foresight capacities that, once surfaced and nurtured, will open up the futures we don't see yet and the ones yet to surface.

My work now is on the Futures Conversations Framework that will help us use all the futures we can identify in the present. It's a work in progress, still forming, still taking shape but at its core is the need to think in new ways about our futures not by only creating a myriad of scenarios but by truly opening our minds to the possibilities already with us in the present. To find and use our foresight. To trust both our imaginations and data as valid sources of information about our futures. To reframe our thinking to see the present in new ways. More soon.

What do you think about the value of strategic planning? It has a place for sure, but it's not the whole game. Share what you think below.