So I was asked to discuss “Planning is over-rated.”
For the most part, is not over-rated. As Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott’s South pole expedition teams will attest.
However planning becomes less critical with both experience and expertise. Somewhat counter-intuitively, planning becomes a less critical as environments become more uncertain, complex, ambiguous. Environments such as classrooms or combat situations (not that I am alikening the two) or where the desired outcomes require innovative, creative solutions.
It’s why “Kindergartners always win the Marshmallow Tower Challenge” over Business graduates. Thankfully, architect and engineers, with the most experience and expertise still build the tallest, most robust towers.
Until relatively recently, organisation management and planning approaches have proven to be somewhat resilient and successful during a period of relative stability and predictability. However, never have we been more attuned for the need to be adaptable, responsive and interdependent – than currently.
And finally, team size. As team size increases, planning can quickly become unwieldy. Who and how many, you plan for, is almost as important, as what you plan for.
Much of leadership evangelism is recycled, whether it is eating frogs or elephants, jumping chasms or sharpening axes, or who gets to decide the toppings on your Pizza — planning is central to what we do as learners, teachers and leaders.
Planning may not be over-rated – Plans most definitely are. All to easily filed, stored or archived – only resurfacing for the annual review. As leaders we have the responsibility to ensure that we hold ourselves accountable for our planning, execution and outcomes and not only that, that we assess the quality of our planning. Simply did “our intended results and our actual results” align. I most certainly promote After Action Reviews.
So – to conclude with Amundsen and Scott
Two leaders. Two different planning approaches. Two different outcomes.
Amundsen first invested in himself, travelling to Germany to seek out the leading authority on magnetic research and then spending three years training to be an explorer.
- Scott had less experience. His ill-fated 1911 venture was only his second polar expedition.
- Amundsen and his team connected and learnt from the local Inuit community, I can find no evidence of Scott doing likewise.
- Amundsen used dogs locally designed sled runners.
- Scott uses ponies and used untested motorised sledges.
- Amundsen took less men but more food.
- Scott took more men but less food.
- What can we learn from the fate of the two leaders and their planning?
- Preparation and planning are key for performance.
- Learn from those around you and as you go.
- Focus on what is most important.
- Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole by 34 days, his entire team returning safely.
- Out of a team of 65, Scott lost five men including himself.
Planning is definitely not over-rated.