Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Strategic Planning Analogy #288: Bourne to Run

One of my favorite movie franchises is the Jason Bourne series. These movies have some of the best car chase scenes ever filmed.

Typically, Jason Bourne is driving at dangerously high rates of speed on congested city streets being chased by multiple drivers. Jason Bourne is rapidly weaving around traffic and making quick, hairpin turns. He frequently shifts from forward to reverse and back. The action is moving very quickly and there are accidents and crashes all around Jason Bourne. Yet Jason Bourne manages to escape.

Sometimes the action gets so scary that someone in the audience might be tempted to close their eyes during the chase scenes. Just think of what would happen if Jason Bourne closed his eyes during the chase scenes. The chase scenes would end a lot sooner and Jason Bourne would not survive.

These days, the world of business is appears to be coming more like those chase scenes in the Jason Bourne movies. Everything seems to be moving more quickly. You feel like you are being chased by numerous forces out to get you. You feel like you have to continually change the direction you are steering your business. There are business casualties all around you and it seems like you have to act fast in order to avoid becoming a casualty yourself.

Some are using this as an excuse to stop planning. After all, when driving through a fast-paced chase scene, who’s got time for to make a plan?

To me, the idea of operating a business without a plan would be like driving through one of those chase scenes with your eyes closed. Planning provides the sight in order to see your way through to the other side. The faster you drive, the more dangerous it becomes, so your vision becomes even more essential. Hence, planning becomes more essential.

The principle here is that rapid change does not eliminate the need for strategic planning. The type of planning being done may need to change, but the function does not go away. In fact, I believe it becomes even more essential. We may need to plan more like Jason Bourne.

I think there are three strategic planning principles to be learned from the Jason Bourne movies.

1. Never Get Lost in the Crisis de Jour.
Every day has its share of crises. Jason Bourne had more than his share in those movies. Everywhere he went there was a new threat to deal with. However, in spite of all those pressures, Jason Bourne never lost site of his primary goal. He was extremely focused and never forgot the big-picture agenda.

Rather than getting lost in the day-to-day threats and car chases, he saw them for what they really were—just a series of obstacles between himself and his ultimate goal. They were not his primary focus. They were just something he had to work through in order to get to “the other side,” where his true objective was.

Jason Bourne did not try to fix or fully finish up every problem thrust at him. That would be a waste of time. In fact, he often left things pretty messed up behind him. He just did enough so that he could put the threat behind him. He never forgot that the plan is not to loiter at the crisis, but to get through so that the larger task can be put back on track.

This should also apply to us. We should never let the daily crisis so overwhelm us that we lose site of the big picture. The goal is not perfectionism on the daily nuisance. The goal should be to find a way to get it behind us quickly, so that we can once again renew the larger journey.

2. Planning is a way of Living for All, Not an Annual Event for Some
The planning mind of Jason Bourne never stopped. He was always planning. He would grab maps, look at train schedules, grab building diagrams, watch things through binoculars, and examine his environment—all the time. He never could shut it off. He was always gathering intelligence, always processing it in his mind.

Jason did not shut his eyes to planning and stop doing it. Quite the opposite—he did it continuously. This doesn’t mean that he was continually changing his goals and visions or changing his business mission. Those tended to remain fairly constant. What changed where the adjustments he had to make to get through the daily crisis in order to get to the other side.

It was a continual exercise in planning the daily detours to get back on track. If you ignore planning, not only is there no daily path, but also no track to get back to. Then you are just aimlessly wandering from one crisis to the next. Without the planning goals, you are like a pinball bouncing around. If you are clever, you can endure longer, but eventually all the balls fall to the bottom and disappear. Planning gives purpose to the way you approach the daily bouncing and lets you find the path to the larger prize.

There is a reason why the car dashboard is inside the car rather than sitting on the desk in your office. Adjustments are made while you are driving, and the information on the dashboard helps you make those adjustments while you are on the move. It would be very impractical to have to drive back home to your office every time you wanted to look at the dashboard.

What does this mean for your organization? First, don’t limit intelligence gathering and analysis to a small block of time once a year. Make it a continual process. Second, get planning out there in the field where the action is happening. Use the field people to continually gather information on what is going on. Use their eyes and ears to gather data.

In addition, feed the information you have in the office to the people out in the field. Make sure their dashboard is with them out there where they have to make adjustments. Help them see the larger picture so that they can work on getting through rather than just bouncing around. It’s easier to give your people freedom to adjust to the pressures of the moment if you are comfortable with their ability to make adjustments which keep your firm on track with the grand strategy.

Strategies and information should not be secrets hoarded from your field personnel. The value increases as it spreads through the organization. Wouldn’t it be great to have all your field people working as strategically as Jason Bourne did—all the time?

3. Have Contingency Plans
With all of the constant motion in your world making each day feel like a car chase scene, it is easy to see how your original plan can get sidetracked. When that happened to Jason Bourne, he did not stop the car and go complain about his problems. No, he just put the car in gear and took a slightly different path.

Jason Bourne lived his life assuming that problems would crop up. As a result, he was always looking for alternative paths out. He wanted to have as many contingency plans as he could. He didn’t wait until the current path was blocked before looking for alternatives. He looked for alternatives before they were necessary.

To quote Jason Bourne:

“I come in here, and the first thing I'm doing is I'm catching the sightlines and looking for an exit…I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking.”

Contingency planning became natural to him. It should be for us as well. Planning for today’s environment means planning contingencies for the inevitable barriers we will encounter. It needs to be a way of life.

I have a friend who has a brother who worked as an agent for the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. When his brother was on the job, his life was in constant danger. Preparing for that danger became a way of life. My friend said that it was a little odd spending time with his brother after that, because whenever they were out, his brother’s eyes were watching all the windows, watching all the movements of the people around him, always looking for potential danger and a way out. He couldn’t turn it off. Your people need to have a bit of that attitude in them—always watching and planning contingencies.

Just because the pace of the business world get faster does not mean that planning becomes obsolete. Just the opposite, it becomes even more critical. It does, however, require a particular type of planning. This type of planning blends a focus on the big picture with continual planning of ways to get through the crisis of the day in order to get back on track to the big picture. The planning is continuous, rather than episodic, and needs to get out into the field where the action is. Finally, it needs to look for contingencies, so that there are fewer crises of the day to deal with.

Jason Bourne was never half-hearted about what he did. He gave it his all and played to win. Not a bad way to go.

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