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Some time ago, Fast Company ran an article on the supposed demise of strategic planning in favor of strategic execution – stating that the 3–5 year strategic plans are too cumbersome and outdated.

Undoubtedly, many solopreneurs and small business owners leapt for joy as they read of its hypothetical passing.

Before we all jump ship on the idea of planning strategically, it’s important to remember that you cannot strategically execute on what we did not strategically plan.

However, we do need tools that are a better fit for business today.

Strategic Planning: Compass Over Maps

In their book, The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Month, authors Brian Moran and Michael Lennington floated two important notions:

  1. Traditional strategic planning is a thing of the past.
  2. “Annualized thinking” creates a belief that there is plenty of time to make things happen. (Isn’t this the truth!)

In Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future by Joichio Ito and Jeff Howe, they took the strategic planning challenge one step further to put forth the concept of compass over maps.

“The decision to forfeit the map in favor of the compass recognizes that in an increasingly unpredictable world moving ever more quickly, a detailed map may lead you deep into the woods at an unnecessarily high cost. A good compass, though, will always take you where you need to go.” (from Whiplash)

The traditional strategic plan might be considered a map. Like the Triptik previously designed by AAA for your family trip to the Grand Canyon. It outlined the best way to get there with the greatest expediency, but it had its limitations. If there were road closures or construction, there was no way of knowing that. And, it neither inspired or allowed anyone to veer off course to see the biggest ball of twine in the world.

Google maps has changed that somewhat, but the notion of maps is excellent when the destination is known and efficiency is key.

Perhaps a compass is a better tool for today. After all, how many of your businesses look exactly like you thought they would five years ago?

In business today, we face challenges that don’t have easy solutions. Plus, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to predict with any accuracy what the decisions of companies like Google and Facebook – those whom we’ve become dependent upon to generate leads – will have on our futures.

I love what Sylvia Lafair, President, Creative Energy Options says about the maps versus compass predicament:

Maps are stationary, may be dated and causes frustration when inaccurate.
Maps provide a description; a compass provides vision and direction.
Maps can slow you down when the path is not clear.
Maps cannot show you how to get on that road not traveled.
Maps are poor indicators of what is unfamiliar.
Maps are about going on a chosen course and staying there, no deviations.
Compass is about a process of discovery. It’s about learning as you go along. It’s about more than one right path. It’s about hunches and taking chances.

Compass Use 101

A Compass is used two ways:

  1. Periodically gather your bearings to find out which direction you’re headed. Frequency of use? It depends. Is this familiar terrain? Have I walked this way before?
  2. Focus on points in the distance — but not too far into the distance as large objects, like a mountain, do not lend itself to enough accuracy for use. Follow the direction of arrow, focusing on a near-distant object like a tree or telephone pole to use as a guide. Once you reach each guide point, use your compass to find another.

A Compass tells you where you’re at relative to your true north.

What is the true north in your business? It’s your ultimate business vision, of course.

What guides your movement forward? It’s the point in the not-too-distant future you are working toward.

What Say You?

What do you say? Is a compass approach a more effective tool for moving your business forward than the traditional strategic roadmap? Tell us what you think….

Core Business Assessment


Brooke Billingsley

Vice President
Perception Strategies

Synnovatia is a strategic coaching firm that is detailed and knowledgeable about business. i have a small business that grew from $150K to $750K because of the goal setting and resources that Synnovatia provided. It saves me years of learning on my own.

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