20 03 2011

Insanity Planning: Doing the same thing today and tomorrow that you did yesterday and expecting different results.

That definition doesn’t only cover your own strategies; it includes copying strategy from elsewhere and expecting it to somehow fit the new reality into which you are trying to force it. In other words, “doing the same thing someone else did and expecting it to deliver a different vision or solve different issues.”

Are you affected by insanity planning?

It really doesn’t matter what sector you work in, your operating environment is constantly changing. Sometimes by revolution most often by evolution but, nonetheless, constantly changing.

And yet, the majority of organisations in all sectors continue to plan as if that environment is stable, as if change is not only unlikely but impossible.

All strategies should be developed as individual, personal plans for achieving the clearly defined vision or addressing a clearly defined issue.

Most, if not all, involved in the development of strategy will realise that but that will not prevent insanity creeping into the way they plan, not always consciously.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of this ‘creeping insanity’ – you will be surprised how many you recognise.

“X Company are big and successful, we should copy their structure.”

In the same way that form follows function, so structure should follow strategy. Structure is a tool for delivering strategy. If you try to fit another structure to your strategy you are following the path to insanity.

“This great consultant has provided us with a template for our strategy. He claims it has been successful in hundreds of other companies.”

Anyone who tells you that your strategy can be built around a single, universal template is selling you a convenient short cut to insanity, not a solution. Remember your strategy should be individual and personal to your wants and needs, which vary slightly or widely between all organisations.

“Our last strategy worked very well; let’s repeat it with suitably updated objectives and measures.”

Companies who live in the past will soon be consigned to the past. Consider where the internet or the mobile phone would be today if all planning was based on repeating previous strategies. Good strategy addresses current issues or future vision; only insanity planning addresses the past as if it were the future.

“We can’t afford to develop our strategy properly today so we’re putting it off until we can.”

We hear this one a lot! How does it fit the definition of insanity planning given above? If planning is put off, it will usually continue to be put off, there will always be some reason (read ‘excuse’) why planning can’t be done.

In fact, by not planning, some planning is being done; unfortunately the result of this plan is either a small company staying small (or dying) or a large company shrinking (or dying). Strangely, these same companies are usually spending more than it would cost to develop a good strategy (i.e. plan the company’s future properly) on peripherals which look great but deliver little or nothing.

Now that is insanity!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2011

Twitter @cowanglobal


13 03 2011

It’s a question that I hear fairly regularly, ‘why do I need a strategy?’ Then there is the statement which is the cousin of that question, ‘I don’t need a strategy.’

Cow Pooh (or words to that effect). You are deluding yourself. Let me explain why.

When it comes to strategy, are you a headless chicken?

In simple terms, you need a strategy as your means of identifying, and then achieving, your wants and needs (see ‘What Does Success Look Like?’)

As an individual, e.g. an athlete, this might take the form of a series of building blocks in order to achieve the desired goal and should also include the recognition and resourcing of the many support resources likely to be required along the way to ensure success.

For the corporate entity this will require the coordination of multiple departments all delivering their part of the greater corporate goal, possibly across regions and countries. The more considered the strategy, the greater the likelihood of success.

Let’s take a look at some of the arguments regularly put forward for not needing strategy.

“I don’t need strategy, I need practical solutions.”

What do you think a strategy gives you? A strategy will help you define where you are going and the most efficient, effective and economical way to get there. How practical do you want your solutions to be?

“I’m too busy; I have no time for strategy.”

There is a difference between working hard and working smart. Many people work harder than they need to because they do not take the time to define what it is they need to do and when before they start, as in have a strategy. And if you are a workaholic, great; just think how much more you’d get done combining smart with hard!

“I’m too busy, I’ll get round to it once my workload eases.”

Of course you will. The problem is (and you know this), your workload won’t ease. It won’t ease because you never take the time to figure out what needs doing in what order and to what priority, in other words you have no strategy so your workload won’t ease.

“I don’t need a strategy, I need action.”

Of course you do, we all do. But action without defined purpose (i.e. strategy) tends to look like insanity. Or do you want to look like the proverbial headless chicken?

“Actually we have a strategy; I just don’t know where it is.”

Just because it says strategy on the front doesn’t make it a strategy. And if your document sits on a shelf gathering dust, odds are it is not functional and/or relevant, which means it isn’t a strategy. You still need one for all the reasons above and more.

“I can’t be bothered. Success isn’t important to me. I don’t want to achieve anything.”

In which case, you’re right. You don’t need a strategy!

An athlete once asked a coach; “why do I have to follow my training programme,” to which the coach replied; “you don’t. But then you don’t have to go to the Olympics either.”

The coach sums up the need to have and to follow strategy nicely. The less ambitious you are, the less you care about results, the less success matters, the less your need for a strategy.

Conversely, the more you want or need something (such as success), the more vital the requirement for not only strategy but good strategy becomes.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2011

Twitter @cowanglobal


6 03 2011
Seriously, do you really know what success looks like?

Most readers of this blog will have heard (and occasionally used) the acronym SMARTER to test out their goals, yet what never ceases to amaze me is how few companies, large and small, apply the same acronym to their idea of what success looks like.

For the benefit of those who have not encountered SMARTER before, here is what it means:


  • Have a specific goal rather than something vague like I want to be better.


  • Include a measure which will tell you whether you have achieved your goal or not.


  • You must agree to the goal if it is to belong to you. Don‘t let others impose their dreams on you.


  • There is little point in planning for failure. Ensure your goals are realistic.


  • Impose a date or a deadline for achieving your goal.


  • Whatever your goal is, if it doesn‘t excite you, it will not keep you motivated.


  • Record it and commit to it.

There are other, slightly different versions but they all pretty much say the same thing.

Now, back to what success looks like. Regular readers will know I like using sporting analogies, for this one I will use a male 800 metre runner.

What does success look like to this athlete?

“I aim to win an Olympic gold medal.”

No shortage of ambition but if you run that ambition through SMARTER you will see that the athlete has a dream; he does not know what success looks like.

Winning an Olympic gold medal is not specific. First and foremost there are too many factors outside the control of our athlete not least, how fast other athletes might be when the Olympics come around. To make this aspiration something he can commit too he needs to phrase it in terms of his ‘controllables’. In 800m terms, that means committing to a time which intelligent research suggests will be quick enough for gold.

The athlete also needs to add a deadline in order to turn his hope from dream into goal. In setting a target time and a deadline he adds specificity. Provided the time and time-frame are realistic, the athlete agrees and the idea still excites him (and continues to). We now know what success looks like:

“I aim to win an Olympic gold medal at 800m in 2016 which will require me to have the ability to run 1:42.”

Somewhere in the world an athlete might emerge who will run 1:40 (a world record) but that is outside our athlete’s control, he has defined success by things he can control and in doing so has turned a dream into a goal.

What does this mean in the corporate world? That all depends how much of the lesson you want to take on board. Is your company’s success built on little but an ill-defined dream or can you genuinely define success in the way our athlete could?

Ahh, I hear you say but the athlete might not win the Olympic gold even if he does run 1:42 in the final in 2016. And you’d be right. Knowing what success looks like doesn’t guarantee success, there are always too many elements outside our control. What it does is greatly increase the likelihood of success and, should we fall short we will still have improved from where we were.

And the tool for checking? We probably knew it all along; we just failed to apply it. Sometimes it is the simplest things which are easiest overlooked.

If we really want to define what success looks like, we must remember to be SMARTER!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2011

Twitter @cowanglobal