Strategic Humility

It's interesting to see continued practices of strategic machismo in organizations. We like the sound of holding people accountable for planning assumptions declared with the force of fact. When people with power measure loyalty in terms of predictability, others do their best to paint the most predictable world possible, acting as if the future is knowable and change is ours to control. People who demand strategic predictability want to paint a picture of a future without risks, which means the dubious pretense of planning without uncertainties or unknowns.

Strategic humility is the opposite practice. It starts with being realistic about the future. It's being clear  that the future is knowable only in iterations, at the rate of our questions.  It's making our questions the heart of articulating our planning intentions and actions. It's translating all of our hopes and concerns, unknowns and assumptions into new questions. It's discovering that the future we get is the future we co-create through our questions.

As long as we get all of this, we can roll out as many strategic plans as we want, with bold headlines, not fine print, reminding everyone that no matter how anxious or sincere our planning, the actual territory of reality might differ from the maps our plans. No amount of knowns prevents unpredictable unknowns from emerging even with the tightest plans. Pretending otherwise doesn't make plans more durable.

Strategic humility is core to the Agile Canvas process we use for strategic and business planning. It is the opposite of conventional models that instead focus planning efforts on anything else, including things like assumptions of missions, visions, strategies, objectives and goals.

In a culture of strategic humility, none of our plans are assumptions. They are the synergies of intentions, questions and actions. Intentions are what we want to see possible not what we think is predictable. We turn assumptions into questions not predictions. We feel free to declare and time any intentions we want. We use them to better identify our questions. When we put questions rather than predictions as the heart of planning, we inquire rather than perspire our way into the future.