In 1987, a professional wrestling match between Bruiser Brody and Lex Luger in Florida took an unexpected turn. Instead of the standard cage match fans anticipated, the bout transformed into a strange, unscripted encounter. This serves as a reminder that even the most carefully choreographed events can veer off course.
Businesses, like wrestling, often face disruptions to well-laid plans. As uncertainty casts a shadow over various aspects of life, people seek reassurance in the form of strategic planning. However, rigid plans can disguise uncertainty rather than mitigate it, as demonstrated by Lin Wells’ memo highlighting the dangers of acting on predictions with unwavering conviction.
There are countless reasons why plans might fail, ranging from incomplete information and pride to unrealistic expectations and flawed assumptions. Goodhart’s Law sums up this phenomenon, stating that any statistical regularity will collapse once pressure is applied for control purposes. In simpler terms, nothing remains stationary if we can influence it.
The Importance of Planning
Despite the unpredictable nature of plans, the act of planning is essential for businesses. Good plans can provide valuable feedback loops and benchmarks to gauge performance. Planning helps businesses establish a coherent “why,” identify bottlenecks, and develop actionable steps.
However, focusing solely on the plan itself can be limiting. Instead, businesses should emphasize the process of planning and adapt to the inevitable challenges that arise. Good plans are often wrong, as they are subject to unanticipated forces and unpredictable obstacles. Nevertheless, they can offer important insights and lessons, as well as open up new opportunities.
Overcoming Biases and Obstacles in Planning
When attempting to solve uncertainty, we often rely on gut instincts that can lead to various biases, such as recency bias, framing effect, action-oriented bias, anchoring bias, and confirmation bias. If left unchecked, these biases can undermine the planning process and the plan itself.
Additionally, other factors can hinder the success of a plan, such as pride, unreasonable expectations, forgetting that other people exist, false positives, and ignoring or blindly following the plan. Understanding these factors can help businesses create more resilient plans that can withstand the test of time and unforeseen circumstances.
The Posture of Adaptability
The key to successful planning is adopting a flexible posture. The best wrestling matches, for example, are those that hold plans loosely while maintaining maximum adaptability. In business, this posture involves high intellectual honesty, humility, optimism, and a growth mindset. It requires preparation, long time horizons, and an awareness that plans and decisions may reduce future options.
By adopting a flexible posture, businesses can develop strategies that are better equipped to handle uncertainty. This approach involves acknowledging the imperfect nature of information and the fact that the future is unpredictable. It also requires identifying reference models and narratives as guides, understanding that alternative future scenarios may emerge, and focusing on coping rather than optimizing.
Building Resilience in the Face of Uncertainty
In an uncertain world, the optimal approach to strategic planning is one of humility and adaptability. By holding plans loosely, accepting the possibility of being wrong, updating based on new information, and making room for others’ plans, businesses can better navigate the unpredictable landscape and emerge stronger when plans inevitably go awry.
Embracing uncertainty and building resilience in the face of change are crucial for business success. By fostering a culture of adaptability, organizations can effectively prepare for and respond to challenges, create innovative solutions, and seize new opportunities. In the end, it’s not about crafting the perfect plan, but about developing the ability to adapt, learn, and grow, no matter what curveballs the world throws our way.