“You can’t do that. It’s not in the plan.”
How many times have you heard that line or one like it spoken at work?
Planning is important. Business plans, contingency plans, succession plans, project plans, etc. are all good—until they aren’t.
Plans bring order and continuity. However, they can also become obstacles to innovation, inclusion, and creativity.
Think about the colleague who has a detailed plan for everything and refuses to deviate from it, no matter how compelling new information may be. Think about the company that fails to recognize the institutional bias that’s been embedded in its long-time succession and promotion plans.
It’s easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date. ~Roger von Oech
A few years ago, I served on the inaugural steering committee for a new community conference intent on becoming an annual event. The first conference was a roaring success; the second even better. The third not so much.
One of original steering committee members who had stayed the course shared her diagnosis as to why the third event was unsuccessful. “The plan had worked well, so we relied on it too much. Because we stuck to the plan, we missed out on including some excellent panelists and speakers. No one wanted to step outside the lines and do something different.”
Ever been in that spot?
Through social conditioning, training, preference, or the desire for convenience, people fall into one of two mental traps about planning and get stuck in their thinking.
One camp frets that chaos will result if there’s inadequate planning and control. The other believes too much planning and control will stifle creativity. The concerns of both camps are valid.
If both concerns are valid, then what’s the problem?
The problem is either/or thinking—accepting the notion that planning is either about control or chaos.
Planning for and achieving successful outcomes require both chaos and control, both disorder and boundaries.
These paradoxes are equally important but essentially different management requirements according to the late management consultant Peter Drucker. Regardless of how contradictory dealing with both disorder and boundaries sounds, they’re interdependent. Like it or not, both are necessary for success. Either/or doesn’t work.
The Wright brother flew right through the smoke screen of impossibility. ~Charles Kettering
The natural tension between the disorder that improvisors thrive on and the boundaries that control freaks adore can be managed provided people are willing to be curious and flexible.
3 ways to find the sweet spot for planning
Doing three things aids us in keeping curiosity, flexibility, and success front and center as we first create and then execute our plans.
1) Have a general game plan.
Know what you want to accomplish. Have a timeline. Define roles, responsibilities, and measures of success. Think about what could go wrong and how to deal with problems. Identify resources and stakeholders. Be willing to flex or scrap it all and re-invent when circumstances shift.
2) Get comfortable being slightly uncomfortable.
Recognize that always sticking to the plan provides a false sense of security that obscures new opportunities. Learn to be flexible with “how” the “what” of the plan is implemented. Be willing to challenge the end goal. Embrace and reward purposeful discomfort. Be willing to be vulnerable and sometimes not be certain of the next step.
3) Leave room for serendipity.
Whether that interaction with an unintended outcome or moment of “aha!” realization is engineered by an app or a spontaneous stroke of fate, be open and receptive to the mad genius possibilities it presents. Don’t let existing plans become a straitjacket. Roll with the punches.
Serendipity. Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you’ve found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for. ~Lawrence Block
Finding the sweet spot between too much and “just right” planning takes time and patience, but it can be done.
Have how you learned to manage the tension between chaos and control?
Image credit before quote added: Pixabay