Why don’t we just call plans what they really are: guesses. Unless you’re a fortune teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy. There are just too many factors that are out of your hands: market conditions, competitors, customers, the economy, etc. Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control.
In fact, you might as well change the name of your business plans to business guesses, your financial plans to financial guesses, and your strategic planning to strategic guesses. Do that and you’ll probably start putting a lot less weight into those things.
Ian MacMillan, Wharton professor of innovation and entrepreneurship, and Rita Gunther McGrath, a professor at Columbia Business School, believe “the only plan is to learn as you go.” They say 1) conventional approaches and planning don’t work when you’re trying to get into new spaces, 2) assumptions are what get most companies into trouble, and 3) it’s not failure that companies need to avoid, but rather “failing expensively.”
Here’s an example: You want to get money for a project. You put together a PowerPoint deck of 100 slides with all these back-up details and all these spreadsheets. You go to whoever has the resources and you make this big pitch. And then they say, “Okay.”
You set off, and in two or three months you discover that the market wasn’t exactly what you thought, and the service delivery requirements aren’t exactly what you thought, and maybe the product needs to be tweaked. Now, you’ve got this huge commitment that you’re supposed to live up to. So the first dilemma that we see in companies that causes them to fail so systematically is this presumption that you can be right in a world of massive uncertainty. That leads to these kinds of dysfunctional behaviors.
Great way to put it there: Stop presuming you can be right in a world of massive uncertainty. The only plan you should make is to plan on improvising.