Thursday, 25 February 2010

Alan Webber: In Times Like That It's Hard To Imagine What Kinds Of Planning You Can Do

Alan M. Webber is an author, columnist and founding editor of Fast Company magazine. His articles and columns have appeared in The New York Times Sunday magazine, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times. He is the co-author of ‘Changing Alliances’ and ‘Going Global’ and his latest book ‘Rules Of Thumb’ has had great reviews from Paolo Coelho, Tom Peters and Seth Godin. As a big fan of ‘Fast Company’, Alan was on my target list to talk to about #unplan. Here’s what he says:

“I recently heard a speech where Bob Johansen suggested that the new acronym for these times is ‘VUCA’ (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous). I guess it's a term the military uses, but it's fitting for business, life, you name it.

In times like that it's hard to imagine what kinds of planning you can do. I guess you can lay out directions; you can define first principles; you can identify values and causes, customers and markets; you can describe a way of doing business and a culture; you can talk about intentions and trajectories. But the old-style planning--do you remember when companies would have shelves loaded with 3-ring binders with their plans? How would that work today? And what is a reasonable time horizon for doing planning? Even planning has to be reinvented to be relevant these days!”

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

REWORK: The new business book from 37signals

I'm looking forward to reading Jason Fried and David Hansson's book REWORK, that's published in March. I was excited to learn that Mike Rohde has done the illustrations; I'm a big fan of Mike's work since I discovered his ‘Sketch Notes’ he drew for SXSW last year. Mike's written a guest post on the 37signals blog about how he approached this illustration project.

Here’s Mike’s illustration ‘Planning Is Guessing’. I love it - this is very much at the heart of #Unplan.

This illustration is reproduced with thanks to 37signals and Mike Rohde

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Michael Schrage: Entrepreneurs Need Traditional Business Planning As Much As Fish Need Bicycles

I must confess I wasn’t familiar with Michael Schrage until Tom Peters told me about him. So I looked him up. A co-director of the MIT Media Lab's eMarkets Initiative, Michael Schrage writes, consults and collaborates in the design and development of digital innovation. He’s a research fellow with the Sloan School of Management's Center for Digital Business and a visiting fellow at Imperial College's 'Innovation and Entrepreneurship' programme. He's done consulting and advisory work for Microsoft, Procter&Gamble, British Telecom, BP, Siemens, Embraer, Google, iRise, Mars, the Office of Net Assessment and other organizations. Editorially, Schrage has been a contributor to the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Wired, Red Herring, Forbes, Esquire, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.

When Tom Peters called Michael the ‘guru’ of prototyping, it was clear I needed to track him down. And this is what he has to contribute to the #Unplan debate:

“ To repurpose a ‘60s cliché, entrepreneurs need traditional business planning as much as fish need bicycles.... Even with generously flexible definitions of 'traditional,' I’d argue that investments in 'planning' are less valuable and/or useful and/or useable than investments in adaptiveness, responsiveness and agility....

When entrepreneurs come to me for 'free' advice, I generally ask them to discuss with me their three or five most cherished, most important and most essential 'assumptions' they have around their proposed business - this makes clear to me what level of rigor and comprehensiveness they've brought to their thinking. Then I ask them what prototypes, models and experiments they've explored to test and challenge those assumptions...because actions always speak louder than words...deeds are always more persuasive than thoughts.

To me, 'planning' is not about how we project into the future, it's how we stress test and retest the assumptions we build upon to innovate and advance”.

picture credit: HSM Global

Friday, 19 February 2010

How To Unplan Your Business: Video Trailer

Thursday, 18 February 2010

What A Business School Thinks Of #Unplan

Kudos to the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. They’ve just included ‘How To Unplan Your Business’ in their '33 Promising SXSW Interactive Panels for Business' post. They said this about our idea:

“Ian Sanders and David Sloly have each seen their careers change course many times, and they argue that the right attitude is more important than a plan. They also say ‘business school training is a load of baloney’. While we here at the McCombs School of Business respectfully disagree, sometimes a little unconventional thinking might be just the trick to reinvigorate your business”.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

David Hieatt: A Business Plan Is Another Way Of Saying 'Guess'

I first found The Do Lectures when Tim Ferriss, author of the 4 Hour Work Week said he was going to speak there. The Do Lectures are the UK’s answer to the TED talks, but held in a big tent in Wales. They were started from a conversation between David and Clare Hieatt over the dining table one night. David Hieatt is the Do Curator, an entrepreneur who founded the howies clothing company and until last year was their CEO (full disclosure: I own a howies t-shirt). howies has a distinctive brand positioning; it’s a great example of a brand with purpose and attitude.

Here’s David’s take on Unplanning:

“When we sit down and write a business plan, or come up with a new strategy, it is done so without the customer being in the room. So really a business plan is another way of saying guess, a strategy is another way of saying hunch.

We can’t say those words because it’s hard to get funding for a guess. And it’s hard to persuade a boardroom to back your hunch with their money.

We prefer things to be precise, considered and deeply logical. But that would be ok if only the customer were the same.

But they are often unpredictable. And what should work, what looks great on paper doesn’t always work in the real life. Away from paper, that is.

The awful truth is we don’t know what will work. But that doesn’t make us look so clever. So we can’t admit that. But that’s why we have to try lots of things.

We need to adopt the idea of trying to fail faster. To try lots of new ways of doing something, to take risks, to experiment as if we don’t know the answer.

And as we do this something remarkable will begin to happen. We will start to stumble upon something that actually works. It will just strike a chord with the customer. And then your business will really take off.

We just need to stop acting so smart. And start walking in dumb each day.”

David Hieatt, entrepreneur, co-founder of howies and curator of the ‘Do Lectures’

Monday, 15 February 2010

Tony Hsieh: The Most Adaptable To Change Survives

Whilst not that well known (yet) outside of North America, Zappos is an online retailer that’s earned an enviable reputation for its passion for the pursuit of awesome customer service.

In 2008 Zappos’ turnover topped $1 billion and then last year the company was acquired by Amazon in a deal worth around $880 million. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has built a company around its service commitment: ‘service’ is not a department, it’s the whole company. Whilst the business started out selling shoes, they believe that as long as they are known for service, then expanding into almost any category is possible.

I asked Tony for his take on business planning:

“Charles Darwin said ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.’ At Zappos, we believe the same is true for business.”

Tony Hsieh, CEO -, Inc. and author of ‘Delivering Happiness’

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Tom Peters: He Who Tries The Most Stuff The Fastest Wins

Tom Peters has been a great inspiration to me throughout my career. I asked Tom for his take on ‘unplanning’ and was told to expect a response in March on his return from New Zealand. But in typical Tom style, I actually got a response 48 hours later. I was going to edit his email but decided it more apt to post it here in its entirety:

“MIT's Michael Schrage is the ‘guru’ and my guru on the topic of prototyping, about which he's written a ton. To begin with he labels it the #1 core competence of an innovative organization. But the even more profound point he makes is that innovation is per se the reaction to a prototype. That is, first and foremost, you've gotta have something/s of substance to shoot at if you want to move forward. Which brings me to my other guru on this topic, Texan and EDS founder Ross Perot. His motto: ‘Ready. Fire. Aim.’ Some time after Ross sold EDS to GM, he contrasted the two firms. He said that the EDS ‘strategy’ was ‘Ready. Fire. Aim.’ By contrast, GM's way was ‘Ready. Aim. Aim. Aim. Aim. ...’ Well, we all know the rest of the (sad) story.

In 1982, Bob Waterman and I wrote a book called In Search of Excellence, which was organized around the ‘Eight Basics’ of ‘Excellent companies.’ Something had to be first! And it was, we said, ‘A Bias for Action.’ In 2010 in my speeches I claim (and mean it) that I've ‘only learned one thing in 40 years’ of business: ‘He who tries the most stuff the fastest wins.’

I started to add here, ‘While I'm no enemy of planning ...’ But I am an enemy of overly elaborate planning processes. I am a firm (almost ‘religious’) believer in the power of ‘gettin' goin'.’ I'll leave the last few words to my late father, Frank Peters: ‘Don't just stand there, do something’ "

photo credit: Allison Shirreffs

Friday, 5 February 2010

Kevin Roberts: It’s About Surfing Not Managing

I asked Kevin Roberts, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide CEO, how important he thought traditional business planning was in 2010:

“In today’s world the success of a company can be measured on an inverse ratio to the amount of time it spends on traditional strategic planning. In our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex & ambiguous) world it’s about ‘surfing’ not managing. Catching the customer wave first and riding it hard. In the Participation Economy it’s anticipating how your customers will feel that counts… and then helping them get to their future first”.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Stefan Stern: The Death Of The Five Year Plan

You know you’re on to something when a respected columnist in the Financial Times echoes your thoughts on #Unplan. Stefan Stern argued in a recent column “Living strategy and death of the five-year plan” (FT, October 26 2009) that management teams are forgetting about grand visions and are instead focused just on survival. He argues the traditional approach to strategy – and ‘The Five Year Plan’ – seem to belong to another era.

“Is strategy dead? Chief strategy officers will deny it. Some strategy consultants may reject the idea, too. But, right now, markets are unpredictable. The economic outlook is uncertain. The world has changed. If old-style strategy formulation is not exactly dead, then it is hardly in the best of health”.

Stern cites research by Boston Consulting Group in a paper by senior partners Martin Reeves and Michael Deimler that advocates ‘adaptive advantage’ over traditional strategy. They write: “Organisations with adaptive advantage recognise the unpredictability of today’s environment and the limits of deductive analysis”.

Adaptive advantage means businesses have to react to constantly emerging problems and changing landscapes, rather than try and predict them. This view is shared by Lowell Bryan, a director at McKinsey who is quoted by Stern: “You have to give up the pretence that you can predict the future,” Bryan says. “This is about managing much more dynamically. It is a complex adaptive world, and leaders have to navigate their way through it rather than assuming away uncertainty, as people do in an annual budgeting process. How can you say today what the economy will be like even six months from now?...Strategy is really an evolving idea which develops over a long period, on a long and winding road. …And this new world calls for just-in-time decision-making.”

These extracts are copyright Financial Times.