What Good is a Roadmap in All This Whitewater?

From the Greeks on down, strategic planning has often been seen as what’s needed whenever the future is worth contemplating. While the model has changed a bit over time, the iteration we are most familiar with is:

  • Vision (preferred future)
  • Goals (needed to achieve that future)
  • Strategies (the big steps we will take to achieve the goals)
  • Tactics (the little steps that get the big steps accomplished)

Then we plot all these along a three to five year time frame and go to work. And, just as we get started something changes. We get the big grant, or we don’t get the big grant; the artistic director announces they are leaving; or staying; someone invents the internet; the economy crashes; our city starts losing 50,000 people a year. And in the midst of all this we’re stuck with our strategic plan. We can’t just throw it away, we spent so much time on it. We paid consultants to help us, the Board chair is really proud of her efforts to get it done. We’ve already sent it to the foundation with our grant application.

Yes, we have our roadmap, but this doesn’t feel like the interstate any more.

It’s more like a rafting trip on the Colorado, wild, unpredictable, invigorating. With no rest stops, just rapids, boulders, spray, and a lot of screams—some of sheer terror, and occasionally of sheer glee! Stress is high, control non-existent. The last thing we need is a roadmap. So, what is required on such a wild and compelling ride?

1.  A unifying belief the journey is worthwhile

  • What do we, as an organization, care about and why does it matter to each of us?

2.  Trust: When someone points starboard and says, “There’s a boulder!” There probably is one.

  • How can we learn to listen and hear the views of all those who are committed to our vision?

3.  An acceptance of the power of external forces, and our lack of control over them

  • What is happening in the world around us and how should we respond?

4.  A collective determination to meet those forces and maneuver through them

  • What commitments are we making to each other in order to see this through?

5.  A willingness to take stock, to learn quickly from each maneuver

  • What lessons are we learning and how rapidly are we changing in response to those lessons?

A few hours, maybe a couple of days wrestling with these questions can prove more beneficial that six months of trying to predict the future through classic strategic planning. Gather together, ask hard questions, then jump back in the whitewater. Enjoy the ride!

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2 thoughts on “What Good is a Roadmap in All This Whitewater?

  1. John McCann March 31, 2010 at 6:36 pm Reply

    Thanx….first of all don’t meet in a room, too confining, get outside for god’s sake…it’s 75 degrees. Don’t invite just the usual suspects, identify those folks who hold quite different views from your own, who see the world differently than you do. Ask them really good questions, and then shut up and listen to them! Spend the money on great coffee and decent wine—unless you invite in an outside facilitator—then you need really good wine!

  2. Maureen Carruthers March 31, 2010 at 12:41 pm Reply

    I love “If someone says there’s a bolder” there probably is one. How many times do organizations crash into problems while arguing if they exist?

    This is a great list of questions–and seems very doable. Do you have any tips for an organization interested in setting up some time to follow your advice? Who should be in the room? Where should money be spent, and where can we be thrifty? Is an outside facilitator necessary or can we lead ourselves?

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