Last week, while discussing the need for a five-year plan at Just For Laughs, I recalled something I learned while doing my BComm at McGill, when one of my profs explained the three foolproof steps to putting together a solid business plan.
Per him, all you needed to know is:
1. Where You Are Now
2. Where You Want To Be
3. How You're Going To Get There
Ah, so elementary! Let's review it point-by point:
1. Unless you are severely location-challenged, this is the easiest step. Having trouble? Get a GPS and move on.
2. In business, this is called "vision." Without it, you'll spend your life following. Or worse.
3. THIS is the tough part. And which is why I believe that every five-year plan is a big, fat, juicy lie.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
A five-year plan is an intellectual exercise. It requires you to think, to project, to postulate. (I'm actually a big fan of business plans as this post from--gasp!!--four years ago bears witness.)
But as a doctrine, even as a mere document, a five-year-plan is full of crap. Mostly because of step 3. Here's the problem (and perhaps the smartest thing I've said here all year, so pay attention):
Five years ain't what it used to be. It's the ultimate paradox; time moves faster than ever, and because of that, as an interval, a half-decade a helluva long stretch.
So what's gonna happen in five years from today? We don't even know what's gonna happen tomorrow. Right now, as we speak, thousands of businesses are adapting their five year plans because of the catastrophic situation in Japan. As earthquake-prepared as the country was, nobody saw this coming the way that it did.
I could go on for hours, but I think you get my point; find me a company that had "social networking" as part of its core strategy five years ago and I'll show you a history revisionist. Find me one without it today and I'll show you an also-ran.
And so it goes.
Nobody knows "how they're gonna get there." (Frankly, nobody actually knows "if" they're gonna get there, but I digress...) The winners understand this, and build plans that allow for flexibility, adaptation, and the guts to cut bait and shift direction drastically as things change ('cuz trust me, they will). The losers build a golden roadmap idol, follow it religiously, and pin the blame on others when things go awry ('cuz trust me, they will).
So, all this leads us to the lesson-of-the-week, which breaks down into three parts:
1. "Where" is easy; "How" is hard.
2. You may know "Where" now, but you'll only learn "How" over time.
3. There is no one "How"; it's ephemeral and mystical and changes over time.
Understanding this, I suppose all I have to figure out now is..."Why?"