Back to resources

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

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.



  1. Dr. Burt Smith
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 16:21:39

    I heartily, concur, Ed! Thanks for your comments on my BLOG. Well said, here, too! It really all does boil down to execution. If having a detailed plan works for the culture actually GETS executed and gets results, it’s a good thing and is really something to behold!


  2. Ashok Thussu
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 21:35:48

    Well, any strategic planning based on yesterday is not strategic planning at all. The assumption that this is the right approach may have led to the comments.

    Strategic planning is to be led by where you want to be in your forseable span of next future years. This span may have horizons of shorter duration for technology led industries or be a couple of years for others.

    Strategic planning should also nto be a one time exercise, it has to be dynamic and continued effort.


  3. Troy Green
    May 01, 2008 @ 10:21:24

    Does anyone use a “Balanced Scorecard?”


  4. Ed Adkins
    May 01, 2008 @ 11:21:50

    @Dr. Burt Smith: I agree with you- as I also agree with the gist of the post on your site. Thanks for coming by to respond.

    @Ashok Thussu: I think your point about different industries having different Strat Planning schedules is really important to this discussion- something i wish I had brought up!

    @Troy Green: About the balanced scorecard- yes we do use it and in fact our system, MyStrategicPlan, makes use of the strategy map concept as well as scorecarding methodology. Were you looking for information on the Balanced Scorecard? We’ve got some articles which touch on the concept on our site.

    One example is Performance Management and The Balanced Scorecard: Solving the Performance Management Dilemma Through Strategy Maps

    Thanks for commenting!


  5. cwwinson
    May 05, 2008 @ 07:34:55

    I think innovation and strategic planning have two different approach that people mixed it up.
    Innovation is a process that change and evolve new ideas while strategic planning process plan base on what happened and what to respond. Without something happen, planners cannot plan further. In most case, strategic planner assume innovation happened as a fact. And they don’t realize how fast innovation can change. That is why they fail to plan base on something that change all the time.

    don’t you see so?

    cwwinson, from hk


Leave a Reply to Ed Adkins Cancel


What is 3 + 7 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
All fields are required.

Success isn’t a list of flashy logos. It’s about helping anyone who wants to lead a great organization. If that’s you, join our list of clients – you’re in good company:

A Dose of Strategy.

Actionable tips, case studies, best practices in your inbox every other week.