I suppose there is an app for strategic planning. However, when it comes time for me to advise a client who is beginning to consider a business exit strategy or strategic combination, I often go "old school."
“When strategic planning is on the agenda, “ I advise, “it is not uncommon to overreach. You will be tempted to identify every possible scenario. You will consider multiple time horizons and then reconsider them. You will agonize over the implications of each decision, and then agonize over your agony.”
“By the time you are through with all these deliberations, though, you can potentially risk losing all appetite for action.”
Simple can be most powerful
I then reintroduce the strategic planner to what were once bold innovations, and they remain enormously useful vehicles for innovative thought: a single sheet of paper and a ballpoint pen. While I am partial to the uni-ball 207 Impact RT, I recommend any pen that fits comfortably in the hand and produces a strong line.
Where the strategic planner sits is of no great consequence, though I do recommend he or she choose a comfortable chair. Discomfort can lead to a crabbed, unimaginative thought process. While I personally think best with a cup of coffee in my hand, any warm beverage will do. Warm beverages, as opposed to cold beverages, can relax the mind.
Why the paper and pen? They help to focus the mind. Consider the paper to be your landing strip and the pen to be the plane upon which you are about to make a soft landing. They can also help you remember stray thoughts that can later be recognized as pure inspiration.
A digital device is a land mine of distractions. I, for example, am recording these thoughts on a laptop as I mightily resist the temptation to take a brief detour on the Internet. I could so easily take a break to see if the Dow Jones is heading north or south. I am sort of interested in the weekend weather forecast. I am also a mere two clicks away from visiting The New York Times home page. There is no telling when I will return to this article once I land there.
I soldier on.
Make it concise
Why a single sheet of paper? It is said, although there is no record, that Winston Churchill would return reports to their writers to be rewritten on a single side of paper. Whether or not Churchill did express this sentiment, it works for me. Brevity, according to William Shakespeare, is the soul of wit. It also imposes discipline on the strategic planning process.
Use the wisdom - but avoid the distraction - of those around you
Were friends, family, professional peers, and colleagues ever innovators? Maybe, maybe not. That notwithstanding, they can prove to be plenty useful during the strategic planning process. For this reason, I advise strategic planners to make generous use of this pool of wisdom and experience.
These individuals should not be excuses to delay the strategic planning process or to throw up pointless roadblocks to your forward movement. Clearly articulate the nature of the advice you are seeking as you sort through the variables, and then add this to your thought process.
Thinking, of course, is not an innovation. Innovative thoughts are. While I warn strategic planners away from pointless, endless deliberations, I do encourage deliberate thought. The planner can and should think hard about what he or she wishes to achieve. While the brain isn’t a muscle, it works better after it has been warmed up.
Look at that sheet of paper for a while. Don't be frightened by its blankness. Stretch your brain and begin by jogging in place. Then get thinking. You will officially be on the road to innovating the next chapter of your professional life.