In exploring the future, it’s the journey that counts most, not the plan, report, or briefing you produce. Remembering that is essential. You need to make sure your colleagues, clients, bosses understand that the value and power of the journey is foremost. You don’t want your key stakeholders to wait for the “answers” they think you should produce for them, you want them in on the process.
The process is about rehearsing flexible thinking, alternate views, what ifs, and contingencies. You can’t explore all the possible what ifs, and should not try.
Instead, learn from the thinking you do in exploring a range of possibilities. By that you can get better at facing uncertainty with assurance that you and your colleagues build into your thinking resilience against the unexpected. Chances are, your plans will be robust in a range of different outcomes–you can hope so.
Dwight Eisenhower understood this:
“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning”
–Speech to the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference in Washington, D.C. (14 November 1957) [Link]
A great tool for this journey is scenario planning. A set of scenarios is a sampling of a range of what ifs against which you can build some plans and strategies. But your set is never a complete view of the possible future. And most of all, it’s the process of exploring alternative futures with scenarios that matters most. You can find a lot more about scenarios here.
(My colleague Jennifer Jarratt reminded me of this quote, and I am grateful in this, as in so much of her work, for her ideas and inspiration.)
Eisenhower’s little bit of wisdom, like so many quotes, has taken up residence on the Internet in a paraphrase, cut loose from its true moorings in Ike’s speeches and writing. It turns up most often as “Plans are worthless. Planning is essential”.