THE ICING ON THE CAKE OF PLANNING
(MAKING YOUR PLAN WORK)
Let me begin this discuss by reminding you of the famous Chinese adage that says “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”, yes just a step. Therefore putting one’s leg on the lowermost landing of a staircase to ascend a flight of stairs is also a plan. At least a decision process had gone through your mind of the route you want to take and the conveying foot you choose to start as well as the acceleration and speed you chose to use, although this was done at close to zero time, yet it’s still a plan. Nevertheless, I am not here to teach on the subject of planning, I guess you can find that from many courses and bookshops but I like to tell you about the “icing on the cake” you need to have when you plan, that serves to make your plan come alive to give you the desired outcomes.
The story of Alexander the great should elicit some thoughts in our mind about the lesson of strategy that this write up intends to achieve, and hopefully get us to the point where we can adequately move from the point of planning to the point of action.
Imagine the boy Alexander the Great, son of the Barbarian, Philip the conqueror and Unifier of the whole Greek city states, after killing the perpetuators’ of his dads assassination, went on full rampage with his Greek subjects alias soldiers matching down furiously eastward with the sole aim of conquering Persia the then ruler of the world and disturber of the nation of Greece. Reluctantly, his Greek soldiers followed him on his mission at least to conquer their disturbers but day by day they grumbled against this barbaric boy since he wasn’t actually Greek. Nonetheless, after crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt, most of the soldiers longed to go back to their Greek homes and even abandon the boy’s mission. This troubled the young man immensely. So many nights, he had insomnia in trying to devise a strategy on how to achieve his plan of reigniting the passion in their hearts and getting their backing for war, but it always seemed futile. Until one night, he assembled his soldiers in their ranks in front of the Mediterranean Sea with their ships lying behind them on the sea while the soldiers faced him backing the ships. At this point he had a plan to reiterate once again his manifesto and by so doing sway the hearts of the army towards his agenda of conquering Persia, and after this they can go back to their beloved Greece if they still believed not on him. Ironically, as he commenced his persuasive speech he noticed that the soldiers hearts where hardened for return; his plan was not yielding the desired result. He had to act fast, so at that point he developed a strategy to help his plan. Let me pause here for a while to assert that many plans, beautiful as they are, may not yield the desired response, not necessarily because they are not good plans, but maybe because the required ingredient of strategy has not been put in the mix to attain the objective of the plan. In plain terms, the plan may not be strategic.
People may have determined what they want to achieve with utmost clarity, allocated time and resources to the venture, and even have an outline of the required steps they need to take in order to achieve their goal (What you may call “the what”) but still fall short of attaining the result. Strategy goes beyond just having an outline of steps to take, but it also stretches into “the how” to best take those steps, what you can call “The how of the what”.
Back to my story…
Alexander then told his general to set the ships ablaze while he went on talking for a very long time so as to ensure the ships where fully wrecked to shambles and ashes. Noticing that the ships were burnt down he then suddenly ended his speech and provided room for the soldiers to make their decision. At this point every single soldier still had their initial decision to go back as his words did little to change their minds, so they all turned back and headed for the sea. On getting to the sea they noticed their ships were already burnt to ashes, then they turned back to the boy King and asked why he did this. His strategic response was simply, “Since you have no ships now and no money; just your weapon, the only way forward is to join me and conquer this Egypt and then you can build your ships to go back”. No wonder, till this day there is still the great city at the sea shore of Egypt called Alexandria named after this strategic lad.
Thus you see, it’s not just having a plan but having a strategy that sweetens the plan, a strategy that differentiates your plan for the purpose of achieving a predefined target. Even Mao Tse-tung in support of the Sun Tzu (the Art of War) agreed with the tactics of strategy in planning in his statement; when the enemy advances, we retreat; when the enemy camps, we harass; when the enemy tires, we attack; when they retreat we pursue. All these axioms can simply be applied as strategies in your plan be it personal, politics or even in business as they could help you in choosing and setting your actions in a plan. No wonder there is even a course called strategic planning to show you the import of being strategic.
As for me, a strategic plan is one that has different sub plans (the plan within the plan) all there to hit the predefined bull’s-eye as you are not the Omniscient. Go back to your previous plans and add two other plans to it and I will see you later at the target.