“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless,” famously said Dwight D. Eisenhower, “but planning is indispensable.” This counter-quote came in response to the question “If ‘failure to plan is planning to fail’, why does strategy fail?”
The discussion on the SPS LinkedIn group offered a variety of responses, including another nugget of folk wisdom: “The more I practise the luckier I get.”
More in-depth reasoning was also in evidence with the observation that “there is an inherent assumption in that statement: that you will execute said plan. This is quite a big assumption to make in today’s business world, where there are competing agendas, dynamic market forces as you mentioned and the plan becomes less clear as you go down levels in the organisation.”
Another member was in broad agreement that execution, not the strategy, is usually to blame for failure. “Organisations – and especially their consultants – tend to put too much emphasis on the strategy, and then don’t pay enough attention to proper implementation. Strategy really isn’t all that hard – in most cases you’re choosing from a fairly short list of strategic options, all of which have been done before. Implementation, on the other hand, requires lots of discipline and a long attention span. In most industries, that’s what sets the winners apart from the losers.”
The ‘known unknown’ aspect of strategy was also raised: “Strategy is about moving forward into the unknown, but people will always be bounded by the extent of their experiences,” ran one response. “You can have the most wonderful spreadsheets and analytic tools, but that can only analyse the past. The future is different – and its difference will render much analysis useless, and the rest inadequate.”
A striking suggestion was made by a different member: “Anyone who thinks that strategy roughly equates to applying analysis should probably move into an analytical discipline, such as auditing. There is no formula for creating strategy; at best there are a number of tools for helping.”
With so many thought-provoking insights, why not join the debate?