By Todd Ballowe
Strategic Planning: Is it Possibly an Innovation Killer or Enabler?

I came across two different blog posts today that are both wrong. They’re also both right.

Both posts claim that there is a problem with strategic planning. They put forth the assertion that strategic planning, drawing some of its foundations from external & internal analysis which are most often focused on past performance, cannot be flexible enough to help with the present- or the future.

Both posts, to some extent, make the argument that instead of strategic planning, business should be guided by something that facilitates agile, quick decision making.

I couldn’t agree more. Or not. Sort of.

The first post, written by Principled Innovation, titled Strategic Planning vs Strategic Imagination, makes the following point:

This is the definitive explanation of what is wrong with strategic planning in any form: it is grounded in the belief that tomorrow must be like yesterday. Above all else, it is this deep-seated assumption that has made strategic planning an enduring feature of the association landscape.

The second, written by Dr. Burt Smith, titled WTGBRFDT?, says the following:

Next time you find yourself saying, “We need a strategic plan…” think instead about exactly what you hope to accomplish. If your goal is to have a big, thick document that will likely never be read by you or anyone else, then a fully-developed strategic plan is exactly what you need.

I agree that a company’s strategic plan should NOT be something that stifles innovation.

If your strategic plan gets in the way of progress, it’s not a useful plan. A great example of this is a tale I read of Disney’s failed Strategic Planning Dept. The department was basically seen as a financial task master that sucked the creativity out of work in the aim to make money- labeled something along the lines of “where ideas go to die.”

That’s a horrible example of strategy- but that doesn’t mean you can categorically say all stratplanning is bad- just Disney’s execution of it. IMO, No organization should let the accountants anywhere near the creatives. Ever.

I disagree that ALL strategic plans do that.

The problem that both posts bring up isn’t with strategic planning- it’s with bad strategic planning- and bad implementation. If you have a flexible enough plan, it shouldn’t be stifling innovation.

And about all strategic planning being rooted in the assumptions that the past dictates the future- again, that’s merely a limit of the planner and not the plan. Anyone using a strategy framework like the Balanced Scorecard/Strategy Map methodology from Kaplan and Norton knows the importance of Leading Indicators: Metrics that are forward focused rather than simply telling past performance.

While I agree with both post that MOST strategic planning is horribly flawed, I disagree that you cannot avoid those problems with good planning. And that’s why I work here.