Planning as a process is meant to reduce uncertainty. Let's imagine you go hiking. Some kinds of preparation will be necessary. It is helpful to check the weather forecast, to learn about water sources, take some food and warm closes, etc. Even if you do all these things thoroughly, it doesn't guarantee that nothing bad can happen to you, but the likelihood of that is much lower. The same happens if you take the trouble to make short-term action plans in business. But it doesn't work when it comes to strategy.
The main feature of the future is uncertainty. As Woody Allen said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans". There is no way to predict the future, and even the brightest minds make wrong forecasts. Thus, "strategic planning" as a way to reduce uncertainty not only doesn't work – it brings a false feeling of confidence. And this is a dangerous trap.
Let's take scenario planning as an example. On the one hand, it is a valuable tool helping users see more than one scenario. It reduces uncertainty to an extent and helps an organization prepare for different possible sequences of events. On the other hand, the number of scenarios is always limited. It doesn't make sense to discuss fifty or even ten possible ways the future may unfold. The problem begins when a company has, say, three plausible scenarios on hand – managers start to believe that one of them will definitely happen.
But the future is, unfortunately, still unpredictable, even if we did an excellent job of long-term planning of forecasting. It means that the fourth scenario may, and, I can assert that based on my experience, will happen, and it will catch the company off-guard.
As such, the only way to deal with the future is to embrace its uncertainty. It doesn't mean that we need to do nothing or that planning is useless. But we have to keep in memory that:
1. The process of planning is more important than its result. A plan will get outdated soon, but ideas we come up with while planning and thoughts we share with team members will help us develop.
2. The future is unpredictable, but it is creatable. We have to stop thinking about the future as something inevitable, something we can only react to. The world around us is created by people, except for the things made by nature. It was the future for them some time ago. Instead of thinking about how to react to some possible scenarios, we need to concentrate on how to create the one we want.
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