Prefer a Good Compass to Any Map

Planning is a good thing … until it becomes an obsessive-compulsive behavior.

I recently sat in on a planning session designed to map (in exacting, excruciating detail) what an organization was going to do and define (in exacting, excruciating detail) how it was going to do it.  Eleven highly-paid adults came up with bullet points summarizing plans and achievements. A scribe typed these into a spreadsheet. That spreadsheet was rolled up into similar spreadsheets from several different departments.

Eventually, someone waaaay up the chain will be in possession of a spreadsheet containing everyone’s plans and achievements, and We Will Have a Plan.

There’s just one problem: this isn’t 1965. The pace of change is faster than we know or can recognize, and long-term planning — beyond lofty goals, held loosely — is an exercise in self-delusion.

Now, it’s true: this kind of planning makes us feel busy. It seduces us with its level of detail. It generates lots of data. It honors a long tradition of obsessive, detailed mapping of the imaginary landscape of the future.

Given the pace of change, though, we’d do better to simply say:

1) Here’s where we’d like to go, and why.

2) Here’s how we’re going to get there.

3) Here, based on measurements we’ve agreed to, is how close we are to getting there.

4) And, over time, here’s how we’ll either:

     a) correct our course to come closer to the goal, or

     b) embrace a change in the goal and start over.

As Joi Ito, who runs the MIT Media Lab puts it: “You want to have good compasses — not maps.” 

Have a goal. Monitor your progress. Alter your course as the landscape demands.

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

Add comment

Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

Worth a Look