Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Anxiety Inherent In True Strategy-Making

A day late, because snow had closed RDU, I dashed out to the Pacific Northwest and back again over the long weekend to rendezvous with family and toast my mom’s 85th birthday, which occurred  a couple of weeks ago.

I takes nine to ten hours each way including waiting at the gate and a layover, this time at Chicago’s O’Hare.  With noise cancelling headphones, I can use the time for what Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google, calls “deep reading.”

Even when highly focused like I was then, “a reader’s mind typically wanders anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the time according to one of the books I read en route entitled, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, by Daniel Goleman.

Gallup’s State Of The American Workplace shows that only 30% of the workforce in the United States is truly engaged.

Goleman cites researchers at Harvard and Stanford who found that that these employees experience “flow,” which is keyed “when we align what we do with what we enjoy.” But even then only 20% of people have these moments “at least once a day” and 15% less often.

Aligning these studies, it appears that a large number of workers are daydreaming during the day, a state that when not over-indulged can incubate “creative discovery.”

The 20% who are actively disengaged may be “stuck in the state neurobiologists call ‘frazzle’…where their attention fixates on their worries, not their jobs.”

In fact, half of our thoughts are daydreams.  During the half day I spent with just my two sisters in the time between my departure and that of my daughter and grandsons, they shared something they had learned recently.

Our decisions are ruled either by fear or by love.  I suspect those preoccupied by their worries are ruled by the former.

As you can tell from reading this blog, I have a rich memory of events that occurred between the ages of three and eight, memories my sisters often say they don’t have from that span in their lives.

According to a new study published in the Journal Memory in November by researchers at Emory, this was probably because my parents let me repeat unaided recall of memories, only connecting them to the age I was at the time the events occurred.

They may have become too busy to be that patient as their family grew.  The researchers found that at the ages of 5, 6 and 7, kids were able to remember 63 to 72 percent of the events they had at age 3.

Following ages 8 or 9, that recall falls to 35% and the “narratives were less complete.  This is because our lives also become more complex at those ages.

Apparently as we get older, if we do happen to remember these events, they have more details, but for many childhood amnesia prevails.

On the return leg of my trip I re-read an article I had skimmed last month by Roger Martin in the current issue of Harvard Business Review entitled, The Big Lie of Strategic Planning.

It reminded me of a book I read in the early 1990s while I was shaping a strategic blueprint for Durham, North Carolina’s visitor-centric economic and cultural development.  It was an elaboration on a paper I read as I was headed to Anchorage, Alaska in a similar capacity in 1978.

A key takeaway from both the paper and the book entitled, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, was “emergent strategy,” the ultimate objective of a strategic plan.

The author, Dr. Henry Mintzberg of McGill University, argues that strategy cannot be planned because planning is about analysis and strategy is about synthesis.

Far too many executives, in fear of uncertainty, hardwire a strategic plan down to nothing more than a tactical plan.  As Martin notes, today the term emergent strategy has been perverted into nothing more than being a “fast follower” of competitor’s choices.

These executives restrain the process with a cost-focus when according to Martin, strategic planning is about revenue, not cost.  Obsession with cost destroys strategy-making by forcing it to be too perfect.

Martin, who is the former dean and now academic director of the Martin Prosperity Institute (centers of creativity) at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business, argues that demands for certainty in strategy-making turns them into mere “plans stead of strategy.”

I’ve blogged before about “strategic intuition,” which involves freeing yourself from goals and objectives.  A strategic plan should not be an excuse to turn off strategic thinking.

Strategy-making relies on the recall some have of events before we were 5 or 7 because from that retrospection springs a curiosity to see the future through the lens of the past.

Maybe being strategic requires being comfortable with uncertainty and the ability to make decisions not from fear but from love.

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