December 13, 2007

Plan – or try things out continuously? Or do both?

Sometimes, it can be useful to look at the opposite of how you, your colleagues, and managers work - in order to find out if you are doing the right thing. In that regard, it would be great to hear about your experiences regarding the dilemma between, on the one hand, planning, and, on the other hand, trying things out continuously.

Situation # 1: Planning
Planning, i.e. deciding in advance - in a structured, systematic manner - what to do, how to do it, when to do it, as well as who should it, can be useful for more reasons. Through planning, a direction is pointed out. Planning also encourages people to think about/reflect upon the consequences of actions and alternative actions, before actions are implemented. A plan is often prepared after thorough research/analysis - and can thereby help people to a better understanding and to making better decisions. The idea is that through good planning, resources will be used in effective ways. It is important to mention that planning is not least useful, when the future is stable/certain, i.e. when changes in the environment can, (well) in advance, be predicted. The problem is, as Mr. Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist and Nobel Laureate once said, "prediction is very difficult, especially about the future." Source.

Situation # 2: Trying things out continuously
To follow up on the last couple of sentences, it would be relevant to ask the following question: What happens when the environment is complex and dynamic – thereby making it difficult, for example, to predict what customers want? In such an environment, it can be useful to - individually and/or with other people - continuously try things out, i.e. think and act at the same time, and learn as you go along. As Mr. Bob de Wit & Mr. Ron Meyer write in their book Strategy Synthesis on page 68, "an unknown future requires not the mentality of a train conductor, but of an explorer – curious, probing, venturesome and entrepreneurial, yet moving cautiously, step-by-step, ready to shift course when needed."

To give an example, think about some of the different Internet products/communities that we use to interact and collaborate with each other. By sometimes using the name beta, the people behind these technologies communicate to us that their concepts are constantly improving, i.e. being further developed – often in collaboration with us - in order to satisfy our needs even better.

Question for you
How is the culture at the company, you work for – in this regard? Do you focus on (the often hierarchical and rigid) planning and control system? Or do people working for the company continuously try things out, learn from mistakes, stay open-minded and adjust, and thereby constantly get better?
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