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Chaos and Strategy

By Robert W. Bradford, President and CEO

Strategic Planning Expert Robert W. Bradford

Strategic Planning Expert
Robert W. Bradford

One of the underlying – and very human – desires most people bring to strategic planning is the desire to put things in order.  This is useful and desirable, but this desire often runs headlong into a messy fact about the real world that is unavoidable:  the world is a chaotic place, with many events happening that are beyond our control.

One of the reasons we do strategic planning is to bring some of the things we can control into focus.  We don’t just do this for emotional reasons, though.  By controlling the most important elements of our business, we can make it likely that we will reach desired outcomes.  One of the greatest sources of stress – and disagreement – in strategic planning is the choices we make about which things we need to control tightly.  This choice is critical, because attempting to control everything inevitably wastes energy, and leaves us vulnerable to competitors who do a better job of focusing on those things which create better outcomes for customers.

In a stable, predictable world, we can consider and set our focus, like a recipe, so that everyone in your company knows what to do and how to do it.  When there is chaos – when things become unpredictable – this recipe may become ineffective.  When you face chaos in your business – whether in markets, technology, or changing trends in things like human resources – you need to make sure to assess the changes and how they may be changing the recipe you use.

Cooks know to alter their cooking time for environmental changes, for example.  If you use the exact same recipe at sea level and on a mountain top, you will get different results.  If a good strategy is like having a good recipe, good strategic planning must sometimes help you to examine the recipe itself, so that you continue to produce a good outcome.

When faced with chaos in their markets from technological change, many companies seek control by working hard to return market dynamics to their former state – the “old way”.  Unfortunately, this perceived “chaos” is often the predictable result of customer desires intersecting with changes in what is possible with products and services.  At large, for successful companies, the desire for the “old way” often collides with the new world created by this intersection, and all the time, money and effort invested in insulating your company from the collision can become truly counterproductive.  As an example, consider IBM’s efforts to preserve their mainframe computer business in the end of the 1980s, or Kodak’s efforts to keep film photography as a practical, high volume business.  Both led to huge losses, gobbling up resources that might better have been spent completely reinventing those companies.

Next time you do strategic planning, take some time to examine the recipe you use in your business, and how it might be affected by chaos that you are experiencing – or anticipate experiencing in the future.  Proactively managing your recipe for success will help you get far better results in the long term!

Is your company having a hard time developing your strategic plan or thinking strategically?  Let us know how you are dealing with it – or, better yet, attend our amazing, data-driven workshop on Simplified Strategic Planning to learn how to develop and implement your strategic plan.  Our highly acclaimed Simplified Strategic Planning approach has helped many hundreds of organizations improve their strategies and bottom line results with effective, actionable strategies.  Please listen to our webinar:  Why my strategic planning isn’t working.

Robert Bradford is President/CEO of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  He can be reached at rbradford@cssp.com.

© Copyright 2016 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution