Why We Need To Radically Rethink Strategic Planning

We live in a world where boards, funders and MBA executives continue to demand strategic plans, in spite of how they quickly become bloated, dust-collecting binders of assumptions that have freshness stamps of about two quarters.

In strategic planning's military roots, successful strategy was possible with historical data that can act as reliable predictors of the future, scout and spy intelligence accuracy, clearly marked enemies in clearly identified locations and the ability to count on the enemy having at least as many communication gaps and delays as you. Being prepared for success was simply a matter of buying and deploying enough people and equipment. Strategic advantage was measured in units of deception. The key to tactical efficiency is command and control compliance to rules.

That world is gone. What worked then doesn't translate into what is now. This is a world where a whole movement can start with a single tweet. The most treasured cities of millions can be paralyzed in minutes by a few. Whole industries can become at risk in just a few years of an emerging disruptive startups. One act of deception can undo any scope of previous success. An entire new generation will engage their gifts only when they can participate in co-writing the rules.

We like plans because they make us feel comfortable in face of an intrinsically unknowable future.  As long as we have enough data and/or logic to defend untested assumptions, they win approval. The approvers have no hard evidence of assumption validity or sustainability. They can further assuage any residual discomfort in the unknown with investments in performance consequences, in spite of the fact that fear and confidence are not sufficient conditions to make people actually smarter together.

The Agile Canvas is a navigational tool for a world of unprecedented change, complexity and connectivity. We grow the future we want to see one question at a time. We work from the principle that our actions are as good as our questions. Getting our strategies right in a changing world means getting our questions right. In a world where change is a constant, the future belongs not to those with the most confident assumptions but those with the smartest questions. This is how we radically rethink strategy.