Strategic Planning: Thinking Critically About the Future
For the critical thinker, strategic planning combines elements of both Analytical and Systems thinking, as well as of course, Strategic Thinking. Its outcome is a strategic plan of action to accomplish a stated goal.
A strategic plan needs a thorough analysis of the present state and a visionary concept of what now potentially lies ahead in the path to achievement. A strategic plan is a fluid, time-based plan of action that includes planned adjustments based on predicted scenarios occurring. Because of this, a strategic plan is not static, and it needs periodic revisiting.
Creating a document that spells out steps to achieving a goal is not Strategic in any way and it's a common mistake that many individuals and organization make.
To be Strategic it must be anticipatory of future event(s) that then, if they occur, will require an adjustment to the action plan.
"The future started yesterday, and we're already late."
"There's no present. There's only the immediate future and the recent past."
“We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”
In Reaction Momentum is Lost
If you are in a sailboat race and your boat is heading in a direction to arrive at a specific mark (buoy) on the water at a given time and the wind shifts dramatically, your boat's momentum changes, losing speed and direction to the mark. If you were able to anticipate the wind shift, you would have taken advanced steps to be ready and made the necessary adjustments more quickly.
If you are on a cross country road trip and you anticipate in advance that you will be passing through a major congested city during a rush hour time period, hopefully you would be thinking strategically how to avoid the traffic versus thinking re-actively once you got there and lost your travel time momentum.
A strategic plan is anticipatory to the longer-term future and not reactionary to the present or even immediate term future. In a sailboat race or on a cross country journey, it takes time to reset the sails, get crew in the correct position to deal with the change, to find the correct exit road from the current highway and the correct side roads to follow. Keeping the momentum of getting to the stated goal, not losing time, and maybe even turning the wind shift into an advantage, is the objective of a good strategic plan.
Anticipating and Dealing with the Unknown
Having a strategy for dealing with rush hour traffic at a known future time is certainly important, but what about dealing with potential unknown things? What about accidents that occur on the road or road construction projects that will block your path? And then there's other things like weather, transportation shutdowns, fuel supply outages, and more.
Giving you some real examples …
I used to fly weekly between Boston and either New York City or Newark, NJ. In the winter months weather can be unpredictable and cause airport shutdowns and major delays. Anticipating these potential problems, I kept a handy list of phone numbers to the front desk of nearby hotels. I also kept handy rental car numbers and train schedules. If the unknown but potential scenario of fog occurred and the airport shutdown I could quickly get to an acceptable alternative. I didn't have to waste time in trying to find numbers, I could rapidly jump to another plan of action for getting home. "Early bird catches the worm" strategy!
In the fall of 2017 I had to evacuate my 93-year-old mother, my wife, and myself from Hurricane Irma … our home is directly in the path of where it came ashore in Florida. Anticipating future fuel outages, I bought a rack that fits into the trailer hitch on my vehicle. Lashed to it I put five filled 5-gallon gas containers, which doubled the range of my vehicle. I found they were not needed on our journey out, stations still had fuel. However, 10-days later, during the trip back home they were indispensable.
The above examples are simple and hopefully easy to grasp, to help you better understand the basic concept of planning for the unknown.
The big power of using a Critical Thinking perspective when planning, including planning for the unknown, is realized in Strategic Planning for an Organization, a Department within an organization, or even your own Personal Career Planning.
I'll cover those in a next chapter on this topic.