But You're Just Not Doing it Right

But You’re Just Not Doing it Right

That’s the response I get from the people who are very passionate about strategic planning. In case you don’t know me, I think strategic planning is horrible. In Humanize, we devote nearly 8 full pages to why strategic planning doesn’t work. And it’s not just us pontificating. We cite respected business school professors, people published in Harvard Business Review, peer-reviewed research studies. And these sources have been around for decades. This isn’t new. The way we do strategic planning is destined to NOT work. It is designed in a way that is deeply inconsistent with the way the world works.

“No,” strategic planning fans will say, “you’re just not doing strategic planning right!” They will concede that the boring, institutional approach to strategic planning that yields those glorious binders that sit on the shelf gathering dust is a thing of the past. That is BAD strategic planning. We definitely don’t want that. They will then try to sell you on their new dynamic, nimble, constantly evolving, “living plan document” system. Besides, you can’t get anywhere unless you have a strategy and some tactics, right? So we HAVE to do strategic planning. But maybe we should just call it something different? Here at History articles you will get the best physics history knowledge.

So here’s the deal. I don’t care what you call it. And yes, strategy is important. Yes, planning is a useful human activity. I don’t think doing things purely at random is a great way to shape our future. But I think we’re missing a much bigger and more important point:

All of this is made up.

There is no universal law of management. We pulled it out of thin air. We made it up. And we don’t have terribly strong science to back it up, either. But we have been so immersed in our management regimes (our MECHANICAL management regimes) for so long, we take them as givens. We literally can’t imagine a world where we’re not centrally defining a strategy and a list of tactics for the minions to implement. But here’s the inconvenient truth: people get things done without those. A case in point comes from a blog post from Doug Shaw over in the UK.

Granted, he’s just one person. This is not a research finding. But it is shining a light on something very important: the way we manage is only assumed to make us more successful. I think it’s more likely that our organizations are succeeding despite the way we manage them, not because of it. And it’s quite possible that managing in radically different ways (like finally jettisoning strategic planning) could actually make us more successful.

Maybe–just maybe–the world is not flat. I know that sounds crazy, but I feel like it’s time for a few of us to have the courage to set sail, willing to fall off the edge of the earth, and bring the rest of you into the 21st century. 🙂


  1. 11.05.2012 at 11:21 am

    Hi Jamie

    I’m writing this with one hand – the other hand is clinging to the edge of the earth, I just damn near fell off it!

    I too find it odd that folks are so addicted to ‘well it worked so far up to now so let’s just keep on truckin’. I worked for a huge company for over 12 years and all the time I saw chances for us to do stuff so much better than we were. And where I could, I changed stuff. And others did too. And sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. We benefited enormously. So did our colleagues and our customers. And yet it is hard, the pull of the familiar is very strong.

    Another related tale has emerged today – here is the link in case you and your readers are interested:


    I’m sorry we weren’t able to hook up on your recent trip to Europe – hope we can rectify that afore too long.

    Cheers – Doug

  2. Raysa
    11.05.2012 at 12:06 pm

    Hi Jamie.

    It’s so interesting that you bring this up. My boss and I were just talking about the fact that an instruction we know has worked on three different strategic plans in the last three years, convinced that was going to help them get ahead and make necessary institutional changes.

    As you can imagine, they got touted in meetings and uploaded on the website but that was about it. Mostly they just gathered dust.

    Too many people/organizations/institutions think of strategic planning as an end rather than a means to an end. WHY are you doing strategic planning? What are you trying to accomplish? I agree, scrap all the fuss about the plan and focus on the end-goals. A strategic plan is at most a tool, not the endgame.

  3. 14.05.2012 at 11:48 am

    This is a wonderful post – thank you for it.

    You probably already know about it, but there’s a book called Images of Organization that you might find interesting. It’s written in a slightly academic style (fair warning), but it explores multiple different ways of thinking about organizations (as machines, as organisms, etc.) and how they operate, and makes the overarching point that there is no one proper way, and that different styles of operation will match different environments more or less effectively. In short, one of those things that just sort of sounds like common sense once someone spells it out for you.

    Anyway – thanks again for a great post! (Heard about it through BrightPlus3)