There’s an old saying that failing to plan is planning to fail.  It holds true as much today as it ever has, but I’ve been thinking about it a bit lately and the more I think about it the more I think there is something missing from this sage advice.  Planning is critical… as long as you know where you’re going.

Consider two people who are planning a trip.  The first has clear goals in mind – to visit New York City and while there to take in some key sights including the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Times Square, and a musical on broadway.  The second isn’t quite sure where they are going, but they’re determined to go somewhere for a four day getaway.

Now if they both just set to planning I am certain that their outcomes will be significantly different.

The first person will carefully plan their excursions, buy tickets to the musical of their choice before arriving, ensure they are booked on a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty, and have transportation arranged to Central Park and Times Square before arriving in New York City.  Their trip will come off with minimal issues and even if something does come up they will be able to deal with it in stride having planned their trip around the goals they had in mind for their getaway.

The second person will pack their bags with clothes for all types of occassions that might come up, pack food and drinks for several different types of locations, lay out a travel route based on a reasonable driving schedule and to avoid most of the major traffic issues, gas up the car, and drive… but to where?  Even if the second person winds up in New York City they won’t be ready to take in the sights, the good musicals might all be sold out, ferry trips fully booked, and perhaps even all the good hotels will be taken.

The plan is only as productive as your destination is clear.

Now I’m not suggesting that you apply this in business by defining where your business will be in 5 years and then putting your head down to plan to get there all in one shot.  For most buisnesses in the current environment (not just small businesses) it is virtually impossible to visualize your business environment 5 years from now, but you can most certainly plan your next 6, 12, or 18 months with some clarity.  Next you need to look out 24, 36, and 48 months to set some guidance for where you want to be playing.

Even though your 24, 36, and 48 month targets might move and evolve on the journey there, if you just trust that they will work out if you plan the short term well you’re more likely to be surprised when you get there.

In almost every industry and marketplace the pace of change is increasing at an incredible rate.  Either your constantly driving to define your industry or you’re being left behind (just ask RIM and Nokia).  A plan with no destination isn’t much of a plan is it?

There’s another great old saying that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

You just might not like where ‘there’ is when you arrive.

I’d love to combine these two old sayings to create something that is really powerful in setting the agenda for a successful and useful plan:

A clear destination coupled with a well thought out plan are the keys to creating the experiences of a lifetime.  Without them you might find yourself on a thoroughly enjoyable journey to the end of the world.

How would you put these concepts together, and what are your thoughts on tying the two ideas together?

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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