Planning

Navigating from the Past

When we navigate using the constellations and stars in the night sky, we rely on light generated in the past. A few stars might not exist in real-time, their fate unknown to us since it may take hundreds of light years for current illuminations to reach us. So, we proceed confident the past will secure our coordinates.

When we plan, we review. We take what we know now and attempt to rationalize and transpose it onto the blank canvass that is the future. We make broad assumptions and overlay current conditions. If we want a tropical vacation in 2023, we believe that historical weather patterns will hold and we can rely on Hawaii to meet certain atmospheric parameters.

There is no fault in this approach, it has served us faithfully in many examples. Mondays have a familiar routine compared to Saturday and we can account for trends. Except when the past does not equal the future.

Where do we turn in these moments that break the blockchain? We navigate from our values and training. Our values are behaviors that are foundational and we will not sacrifice except under extreme duress and our training is what we practice (intentionally or not) on a regular basis.

Fire departments hold drills to reinforce training and values. Laddering a building is not the most complicated task. However, footing a ladder on uneven snowy ground in thick smoke, while flames roll out of a second story window, and rumors of entrapped occupants circulate; that is when the stars are obscure and we cannot easily consult the plan. We adapt, get creative, deploy our resources to maximize our talents, and rely on our training and values.

Many fire departments share a motto that is paraphrased as follows: we take reasonable risks to save property, we take a lot of risks to save a life. Values matter and they are often most visible when the conditions are extreme.

When we plan, do not forget to confirm the values of the people on the expedition. If everything goes as predicted the plan may succeed as scripted. However, when the conditions change to challenging, our values will override the plan and new options and decisions must be considered.

How might we make time during our planning to confirm our values? It might be the best planning decision we make.

Tension

When we highlight an opportunity that contains tension, we are captivated by the narrative that follow. A single blade of grass is less remarkable when found on a lawn. Place the grass pushing through a broken section of asphalt and the struggle creates tension. We are uncertain of the outcome and more likely to be captivated by the journey.

We might incorporate the same mindset in our planning. The outcome of a shopping run to the grocery store is low risk. A strategic plan that considers an initiative that might transform a community increases the tension. Our fans are engaged when we share goals that are resonate but not common and repetitive. We are working on addressing problems that are challenging to solve. What is our role in the solution?

Two-in-One

Do we need flexibility or are we committed to a specific approach? If versatility is necessary, then best to carry a Swiss Army knife. If we are certain, then a flat head screw driver will work. But if drop the screw into a tight space the tweezers on the knife would be helpful. Or, if we need to read small print the mini-magnifying glass could be handy. At a certain point, even the Swiss Army knife cannot possess all the options. So, how certain are we that we have the right tool for the job? A specially designed instrument can be a powerful resource. A pair of alpine downhill skis will get us to the bottom of a ski hill fast. However, if we need to ascend the mountain afterwards, the skis are a major liability. Unless we have an alpine touring setup with climbing skins and a binding that transitions to climbing mode.

Specialized equipment or multi-tools? A good question to ask before we launch on our next adventure.

Perspective

If we have confidence in the future, we can rely on data and numbers to guide our decision-making. If the future is ambiguous, we are better served by employing creativity and wayfinding. Numbers become irrelevant if we do not posses a map and the destination is uncertain. Fantasy sports leagues work because we can agree on what to measure and how to determine the winner. Predicting what to track in a box score for 2021 is less certain. Based on the number of trips I had pre-booked in 2020, prior to the pandemic, I was was planning the wrong course of action. The reality of the world I encountered required a pivot to a new perspective.

How are you planning for 2021? Are you using a fixed mindset and goals linked to data? Are you approaching it with an open-mindset with flexible goals? Are your objectives tangible or experience based? Are you employing a scorecard or a human-centered approach?

We can be presented with new scenarios in seconds. Our focus shifts to a new reality, with different rules, and altered outcomes. In the words of Don Cheadle’s character Cash in the movie Family Man, “Well, you’re working on a new deal now baby.”

Planning Might Change Our Destination

When take time to plan, we are better prepared to navigate the terrain we encounter. We can ford every stream we approach or discover that a bridge exists along the route. If we are on foot, the outcome of using the bridge is we move a little faster and keep our feet dry. If we are running a railroad, the impact is the difference between reaching the end of the line and continuing our journey.

Scott Young has an engaging article about the power of planning, published in the SmartBrief on Leadership Newsletter. I encourage you to check out both resources.

Fire Lookout

Fire lookouts do not universally occupy the tallest peak, the most alpine perch, or the easiest to access. When well placed, they offer a panoramic view, a platform where multiple mountain ranges might be visible, providing a higher value to those assigned to fire lookout duty.

When we commence strategic or scenario planning, perhaps the best location (or mindset) is the proverbial fire lookout. A place that affords us an informed view of the terrain around us. Maybe a bit set back from the iconic landscape that defines our work. Many organizations refer to their off-site gatherings as ‘retreats’ an opportunity to disengage from our sense of place and view the environment from a new perspective. It is a chance to recon routes we wish to travel on our next adventure. We posses a more informed sense of the landscape by being removed from it instead of stopping mid-trail and speculating during our journey.

Critical Moment

A 200-mile cycling competition might start as a large pack until the peloton encounters an obstacle. The selection might be forced by a significant climb, strong crosswind, change in riding surfaces, a team employing tactics, or a crash. The race splits into smaller groups, or even individuals riding solo. Ultimately, the race may finish in multiple groups, or it may come back together for a sprint. Competitors must assess if an event represents the critical momentDo they need to accelerate to remain at the front, or do they believe the group will come back together further down the road?

How we assemble ourselves and prepare for the competition will ultimately be impacted by our assessment of the critical moment. If we believe the race will end in a sprint, then it will change our preparation compared to a competition that will be decided by several long climbs.

The same approach holds for our organizations. Are we preparing ourselves for the critical moment? Even if we do not know what it might be, how it will unfold, and when it will happen? Are we building an organization that can adapt, pivot, or stays the course? Are we discussing other iterations and disruptions? Assuming that we will continue forward at the same pace, cadence, power, and tactics will leave us behind.

Sometimes

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Sometimes the journey is difficult and we seek safety and certainty about the outcome of the adventure.  Sometimes the conditions turn, our assumptions prove wrong, and the final result tips towards failure.  When these moments finally pass, we are able to reflect back with sharper details and sensations than most moments.  I recall how cold my hands felt at the end of a winter training session when I under dressed and the headwind generated polar windchill factors.  I hunker down when I feel intense heat, memories of crawling into structure fires as a volunteer firefighter.   I skip a breathe thinking of my front road bike tire unable to maintain traction as I slid across the pavement, five hours into a twelve hour cycling competition.  I see traces of the cycling wound, my fingers are haunted by a phantom numbness, and the heat from a bonfire sets off a reflex to go low.

These memories from our wildest adventures add depth to our being.  They do not define us because we will find new journeys with equally perilous outcomes.  To believe we are defined is to suggest that we have finished exploring.  Seek out the difficult and challenging.  The reason we continue to plan and set goals is due to the human element and that is what adds depth to the journey.