Tag Archives: strategic planning

How to Plan More Than One Year Out?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We just completed our strategic planning session, the output, a set of goals. And, as you predicted, all of our goals have a time frame of less than six months. How do we get our thinking out more than one year? How do we get our thinking out more than three or four years?

Response:
It’s a problem. Most companies are so results oriented, focused on tangible, concrete results, that thinking out four to five years is difficult.

It is actually a different language, one we are not accustomed to. One CEO friend of mine constantly poo-poos the idea of planning beyond six months. Here is the dynamic and why strategic thinking is so difficult.

In the near term, things, people, technology are all known elements, we can call them by name. They are concrete and tangible. The further we travel into the future, in our imaginations, the less distinct, the more ambiguous things become. If we travel far enough into the future, precise definition gives way to conceptual elements.

We no longer know who the customers will be in five years, but we will likely have customers. We do not know the exact features of our products in five years, but we will likely have a product offering. The market may not have the same requirements five years from now, but there will, indeed, be market needs.

The discussion turns from a tangible, concrete discussion to a conceptual discussion. And we do not practice conceptual talking (thinking) very often. Talking conceptually is awkward. It might even appear pointless. That is because we do not practice.

Thinking out twenty years is a useful step. Thinking out twenty years gives us permission to abandon our current thinking. So, take the year 2035. To ground this thinking, how old will you be? Now, simply imagine. What will transportation be like? What will communication be like? What will travel be like? What will food be like? What will agriculture be like? What will medicine be like? What will your industry be like? What will your products be like? What will your service be like? Who will be your company leaders in twenty years? Are they in your company or outside of your company? How old are they now?

Thinking out twenty years gives you permission to think differently. Thinking out twenty years gives you permission to think out five years in a new way.