Strategic Thinking: Do You Have or Need a Plan?

A strategy is a plan, a mechanism for getting from pont A to point B, to hit a goal.  There are two ways of developing that strategy, (and two types of people the Planners and the Wingers)

Method 1: Wing It (aka The Emergent Strategy)

Keep your eye on the goal, then work out what the next best thing you can do to hit that goal is, then do that, see if it worked, have a look at the goal, then workout what the next best thing you can do to hit that goal is, then do that…. Always moving forward, always trying things

The Planners despise this approach; how can you succeed if you haven’t thought through all the options?  Stood back and seen all the barriers?  Worked all the angles?  How can anybody be so short sighted?  It’s not management, it’s abdication

Method 2: Plan it (aka The Strategic Plan)

Take a goal, divide it into objectives, work out what is mandatory, key and desirable, count all the resources, work through all the timelines, identify all the risks and issues and then plan.  Create a strategy to get to the goal.

The Wingers despise this approach; the world changes, yet people slavishly follow the same plan, the strategic plan becomes the ends not the means.  And do we really need all of those forms!

The Unfortunate Truth

The Wingers are right: the world is not exactly as we see it, and worst still it changes rapidly.  No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy

And the Planners are right, you can foresee obstacles, you can allocate resources, you can mitigate risks.  The 5P model of planning holds true (Poor Planning really does lead to Piss Poor Performance)

Success looks like working together, valuing diverse opinions and not allowing either camp to run to excess

Provided of course you can manage to be civil to one another

Strategic Thinking Read another opinion

Image by markusthorsen


  1. Find myself to be more of a “wing it” guy if doing something on my own, if working with others it seems better to have a more defined plan so that can be communicated and possibly understood.

    • James Lawther says:

      Like you Kyle, I fall into the wing it camp, also like you I find that it drives those those that I work with (and more importantly my wife) up the wall

      Thanks for your Comment


  2. Hi James,
    Reminds me of one of my favourite quotes:
    In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable. – Dwight Eisenhower

    Wingers and planners may be uncommon bedfellows but seem to be necessary to get things done, organise resources and deal with the real world.


  3. Hello James
    Another excellent post.

    There are domains of life where planning works because we have lots of experience in doing that kind of activity and the world is static as far as that kind of activity is concerned. A great example is recruiting and inducting a new member of staff. Or recruiting for, holding and conducting a focus group of customers.

    On the other hand there are domains of activity where a certain amount of planning is useful and beyond that it is a waste of time. New product introductions are a great example. The research shows that ultimately you have to put that new product into a limited amount of stores, in the real environment, under real conditions and let real customers buy (or not buy it). Then you get what you get: some 70% of new products fail even though all the research and planning suggested they would be a success!

    Then there are situations and environments where planning is not useful, it can be counter productive or simply a waste of time. If you are going on a holiday and want a sense of adventure then doing the minimum possible planning is useful: the novely hits you (because you are not prepared for it) and you have to be resourceful and grow (because you have not catered for that situation) like when I found myself in the middle of nowhere in the baking hot sun in Senegal!

    Planning can also be a waste of time (and counter productive) when it comes to conversation, really getting another person and building an emotional bond. Why? The more that you plan the more that you arrive at the encounter with a fixed idea about the person and how that conversation/encounter should go. The less you are in the encounter and the smaller your chances of really ducking and diving with the genuine flow of the conversation / encounter.


    • James Lawther says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Maz, I should introduce you to my wife. I have been married for 15 years and she still asks me what the plan is. After that length of time you would hope she realises I don’t have one.

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