Cinema film reel

Strategic Planning Goes to the Movies

Strategic Planning Goes to the Movies

Have you ever noticed how insights, epiphanies and just plain ol’ common sense show up in the most unusual places?  If you’re anything like me, in your world of responsibility and expertise you read books, watch TED Talks and listen to podcasts, all in an effort to stay informed, in touch, maybe even a step ahead.  And then one day, you’re doing something that has absolutely nothing to do with your professional development or your place of work, and there it is.  The insight you’ve been looking for, an idea, a new paradigm.

A number of years ago I realized the value of such serendipities while reading Robert Fulguhm’s popular little book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  His treasure trove of basic life lessons, drawn from our common kindergarten experiences, underscored the presence of powerful ideas in both ordinary places and unusual spaces. 

Can you relate?  In what unexpected place have you learned a life lesson, gained business insight? 

For me, it’s the movies.  I learn things, unintended things, watching movies.  I’m not suggesting anyone drop out of college and attend movies all day-long, but I am suggesting there are lessons to be learned if we listen and reflect.

I confess, I’m not a “remember-er” of plots; I am a collector of quotes.  Memorable quotes.  (Famous Movie Quotes for $100 please, Alex.)

I hold onto lines and lyrics that speak truth, express emotion or cultivate thought.  The following are three of my favorite movies quotes.  Words that I think have value and application for the world of strategic planning.  Hence, the clever title, Strategic Planning Goes to the Movies.

Here’s one of my all-time favorite quotes.  See if you can name the character and the movie.

“I don’t know.  I’m making this up as I go.”

Answer:  Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

If you know the movie, you know the sentiment.  Indiana Jones is all over the place, chasing relics, being chased by Nazis.  In the middle of the never-ending chase that is Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of his compatriots asks him, “What comes next?”  Indy replies, “I don’t know.  I’m making this up as I go.” That statement is a reminder for all of us in our world of business.

The world of business is dynamic.  Things don’t always go as planned.  Consequently, the practice of strategic planning is dynamic.  Sometimes, Plan A—well-crafted, approved, implemented—no longer applies.

Am I saying, stop planning, make it up as you go, everything is extemporaneous?  Absolutely not.

What I am saying is, be ready for change.  Life is dynamic; so is the world of business.  Don’t expect everything to go according to plan.  Accept and embrace the reality of change.  Traditional paradigms are losing their clout.  The unexpected will happen and you need to adapt, modify the plan, and, at the risk of using an overused phrase, be nimble.  Change happens.  Plan on it.

Next quote.  Ready?

You’re gonna need a bigger boat!

Know the answer?  Hint . . . (sing slow and low) ba dum, ba dum, (now faster) ba dum ba dum ba dum; you got it—Jaws—Police Chief Brody.

You remember the scene; they are out on Quint’s boat, bobbing up and down on the ocean, hunting the unseen shark.  Quint, the shark hunter is ready, his boat is equipped, he’s a pro.  Chief Brody dutifully tosses chum in the water—that’s right, bloody fish guts in the water, meant to attract sharks.  And then it happens, the chum works; a shark, the shark, appears.  The Great White.  Bigger than expected, bigger than what they’re equipped for, prepared for. 

What to do?  If you’re in business, any kind of business, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, there are sharks in the water.  People seeking to do what you do, or something quite a bit like it.  The competition.  You’ve learned to navigate in the same ocean.  But every once in awhile, all the fish are scared away, because something so big, so powerful, so disruptive happens that changes everything.  You need a bigger boat, a different boat, if you’re going to sail these waters.

When the great white disruption comes, when the great white revolution happens, old paradigms often lose their effectiveness and current programs and products gradually lose their luster.  What do you do?

This understated line from Jaws reminds me, reminds us, that true strategic planning needs to look ahead.  Every three years or so, our strategic planning efforts should focus out across the horizon.

Who in your organization is charged with looking ahead?  Not with glasses that see quarterly, or even annually.  How far and wide are you surveying, seeking to anticipate external realities and probabilities that may change your world and the world of your clients? 

Even more importantly, what do you do once you’ve identified potential disruptions and developments?  Is part of your organization’s strategic planning rhythm focused on developing contingencies, creating scenarios that explore how you will survive and thrive in various futures?   If change is normal, are you poised to adapt and adopt plans that call you to retool and refocus?  As long as there are disruptive sharks swimming in the water, we need to be looking ahead and designing tomorrow’s boat.

Last quote, an 80’s movie line.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile you could miss it.

What wise words.  What sage truth.  Who spoke this phrase?  To which philosopher can it be attributed?  Hint, his character sometimes looked straight into the camera and spoke to the audience.

Answer:  Ferris in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

In our organizations, and more particularly, in our cultures of planning, what are we to glean from Ferris Bueller’s perspective on life (and senior ditch day)?  Though change is inevitable, though we need to constantly adapt to change lest the sharks overtake us, we need not fear change and its consequences. 

Take a moment.  Look back.  Look around.  Consider the challenges of change you have faced and met in your organization.  Take your right hand, extend it over your left shoulder and pat yourself on the back.  You have done good work!  You have anticipated change, met change and your plans have caused change.  And through the process you have grown, become stronger and have more effectively fulfilled your mission.  Well done.

We need to embrace change and the rhythm of life that fosters change.  Yes, be vigilant and aware, but change need not be an unbearable burden.  It is part of the DNA of the human existence and the organizations we create.  So go on, keep on considering how you will meet the challenges and seize the opportunities that lie ahead.  But as you do, do so with gladness.  You have the privilege of being in the business of serving the common good.  Not only do you deal with change, change is what you offer.  You provide a better way.  So keep planning.  Keep changing.  And rent a movie, you just might learn something.

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