Tag Archives: planning

Four elements that can inform a productive, effective planning session – Consider these the essentials

I am scheduled to speak to the leadership team of a small, but highly successful, business.Four Essential Books

They are going into a day of planning.  They wanted a presentation that would focus their efforts effectively.  Here’s what I came up with as the outline for my presentation; four key points:

#1 – How to stay on the same big-picture page; the big objectives of the team.

#2 – How to measure your progress toward the big objectives.

#3 – How to help each team member do his/her best by practicing radical candor.

(Yes, mainly from the book Radical Candor:  the formula is:
Care Personally + Challenge Directly.
(Kind of how every person on the team helps coach every other person on the team).

#4 – How to provide exceptional customer service.

Sure, there are other elements that should, and must, be developed in a successful enterprise.  But these four are truly essential; even foundational..

Try reversing it, this way:

#1 — How to provide exceptional customer service.
#2 – What kind of team peer-coaching produces better customer service?
#3 – What do you have to keep measuring to make sure your customers are highyly satisified?
#4 – What big objectives drive this kind of measurement?

Focusing with such clarity informs the discussions throughout the day of planning, and makes for a much more productive outcome.

And each of these four have plenty of books to support the ideas, including:  Start With Why; Measure What Matters; Radical Candor; and The Disney Way…among others.


I have presented synopses of each of these four books.  Each synopsis comes with my multi-page, comprehensive handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation.  Click here to search by title.  And click here for our newest additions. — We present synopses of two new books every month at the First Friday Book Synopsis, based in Dallas; currently over Zoom.


Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future by Margaret Heffernan – Here are my six lessons and takeaways

UnchartedThe future is uncharted because we aren’t there yet.
We have moved from a complicated world to a complex one.
In an age of uncertainty and change, being able to sense what to do in advance of reliable prediction can make businesses or nonprofits smarter, more inventive, and more relevant.
The best way to navigate uncharted territory is to have an energetic, future-facing and long-term ambition in mind. 
Absolutely accurate forecasting is feasible, but only where everything is known and predetermined—and nowhere is that true. 
We have a huge capacity for invention — if we use it. We have limitless talent for questions and exploration — if we develop it. We can imagine what we’ve never seen before — if we practice. Lose those gifts and we are adrift. Hone and develop them and we can make any future we choose.
Margaret Heffernan, Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future


We don’t know what’s coming next.
We really don’t.
We think we can know.
We can’t.
We think we’ve gotten really good at predicting the next next.
We haven’t.
So…we’ve got to be prepared for…the next…unexpected…next.

In other words, the future is…uncharted!

I presented my synopsis of the new Margaret Heffernan book, Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future, at the November First Friday Book Synopsis.

We are in the middle of a pandemic.  We are in the middle of a surge in this pandemic. And, we had some (OK, we still have some) uncertainty over an election.

If life were simple, or even just complicated, but easily “plannable,” things would be different.

But life is complex, and nothing is all that easily planned.  Things are almost unplannable.  And we need some guidance for at least surviving such uncharted waters.

This book helps.

Margaret Heffernan

Margaret Heffernan

And let me mention that I feel unsettled; personally. Very unsettled.

And let me mention also that I am a serious Margaret Heffernan fan. One of her earlier books, Willful Blindness, has had a true lingering impact on my thinking. I think this book may also. 

Uncharted seems to be the book we need right about now.

I always ask, in my synopses, What is the point of the book?  Here’s my response for this book:  The future is unknown. It is not predictable. It is complex. It is uncharted. How do people, and organizations, prepare for an uncharted future?  This books provides an approach.

And I ask Why is this book worth our time? Here my three answers for this book:

#1 – This book is a stark reminder that the future cannot be known.  It is not predictable.
#2 – This book is a narrative of efforts to shape, or at least navigate, a future when the future was unknown.
#3 – This book is a call to collaboration, creativity, and radical diversity and inclusiveness as we seek to navigate the future.

I include a number of Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” my highlighted Passages.  Here are the best of the best that I included in my synopsis handout:

• Apps train us to expect accuracy in plotting routes, choosing hotels, restaurants, and lovers with levels of confidence our ancestors never imagined. We have come to expect the future to be minutely and perfectly predictable.
• The predictability of life, on which we’ve come to depend, seems to fall away and we’re left angry, intolerant, fearful.
• Our expectations are wrong. The future isn’t perfectly knowable and never has been. 
• Optimists aren’t idiots. They do better in life—live longer, healthier, more successful lives—for the simple reason that they don’t ignore problems or give up easily. 
• Human discomfort with uncertainty, together with a craving for reassurance, has fueled an industry that enriches itself by terrorizing us with uncertainty and taunting us with certainty.   
• The aim of propaganda is to disarm critical, independent thinking. 
• That the past is a very poor predictor of the future is not true only of financial markets. It is a source of hope and redemption for anyone with a poor start in life.   
• The Austrian philosopher Karl Popper argued that the fundamental driver of all human history is the growth of knowledge.
• Which history do we attend to: The history of institutions or of protest? Of the powerful or the powerless? …The question is more than academic; predicting outbreaks of violence could save lives. 
• History wasn’t about manifest destinies but unexpected and unforeseen futures.  
• Experience changes us; flukes, imagination, and accidents change us. 
• Only organizations or individuals that are implicitly authoritarian would arrogate to themselves the right to tell people who they are and what they might become.   
• Just as the moment of the birth of the financial forecasting business depended on the simultaneous advent of trains, the telegraph, and statistics, periods of breakthrough require that knowledge, technology, resources, and human ingenuity align.  But other breakthroughs, like the discovery of penicillin or of cosmic microwave background radiation, exist at the opposite end of the spectrum: big, important discoveries that are flukes, neither predicted nor predictable. …they aren’t planned; they emerge and are understood only retrospectively. 
• …a big serious error. It meant that after 9/ 11, they had no Arab speakers. …No single, efficient process, profile, or narrative will prove robust enough for an environment characterized by change.
• “The problem dated back to the Second World War. Some families had backed the Germans because they were anticommunist and other families had backed the Russians because they were antifascist. That was all still in the room.”  
• There are no rules that always work and no rules that are never broken.
• Allowing people at work to think like artists takes more than colorful walls, toys, murals, and open spaces.
• Many companies try to make the unpredictable process of invention predictable, the complexity of imagination simple. But both require mind wandering, time, space, agency. 
• It has been fashionable in recent years to talk of the need to adopt a purpose: something akin to a guiding ambition, which defines what an organization does and stands for. …The speed with which the word “purpose” has been adopted speaks volumes about just how purposeless much work feels now.
• When 181 business leaders, representing 30 percent of the U.S. market’s capitalization, signed a statement asserting that the purpose of all companies was to “promote an economy that serves all Americans,” many applauded a broader and longer-term vision for business. …A deliberate departure from Milton Friedman’s belief that companies serve shareholders alone… …Harvard business academics rushed to demonstrate that serving a broader purpose was great for growth and profits, too; shareholders could have their cake and eat it.

Here are a few of the points and principles I included in my synopsis from throughout the book:

  • The old way:
  • The entire construct of management—forecast, plan, execute—hinges on our capacity to make well-informed estimates. The more we practiced it, the more accurate we became.
  • We live in a new world: a “complex” world. Not the old world, which was “complicated.”
  • Complicated environments are linear, follow rules, and are predictable; like an assembly line, they can be planned, managed, repeated, and controlled. They’re maximized by routine and efficiency. But the advent of globalization, coupled with pervasive communications, has made much of life complex: nonlinear and fluid, where very small effects may produce disproportionate impacts. — What this shift means is that, while we can still be generally certain about many things, much remains specifically ambiguous.
  • what we know about complex systems is that, while aspects of them may repeat, they are inherently unpredictable.
  • everything is connected! — A practical, political understanding that “everything has a consequence for everything else” can, she believes, lead to better integrated policy-making.
  • Some tools to use:
  • experiments –
  • However much we might adore the legends of heroic soloists overcoming daunting odds, the risk is that trying to do everything yourself limits what can be achieved. Experiments can make a bigger difference when they connect a variety of influences, players, and perspectives.
  • scenarios
  • thinking
  • acting
  • collaborating
  • Choose to be an optimist:
  • Where pessimists may avoid problems, optimists cope and solve.
  • Loosen up…
  • so the danger in making science efficient is the risk of inhibiting innovation, marginalizing underrepresented ideas, and discouraging new and multidisciplinary fields.
  • It’s a dangerous myth that if you plan enough, if you’re efficient enough, you’ll always get it right.”
  • “I made the decision to open up our senior management meetings to anyone who wanted to sit in…”
  • three Mexicos
  • The scenarios had been whittled down to three: A Hostile Mexico, A Paralyzed Mexico, and A Responsible Mexico.
  • Think like an artist; (observe; reflect; ponder…):
  • This mind-wandering is free of an agenda, with no promise of reward, but, consciously or unconsciously, artists are incapable of not doing it.
  • Each time I talk to chief executives or boards or senior leadership teams about less management and more freedom, they understand the opportunity but cling to the ancient reassurance of scientific management.
  • Because everything about the environment, from the badge to the bonus, KPIs, assignments, and deadlines, speaks to the corporate need to stop minds from wandering, to streamline periods of reflection, to predict outcomes before projects begin.
  • The brilliant simplicity of Preparation (not predicting, or planning)…
  • because… epidemics come without warning
  • That means relationships have to be carefully nurtured and negotiated before an outbreak—or, as Hatchett puts it, “Don’t exchange business cards in a crisis.”
  • in 2018, there were outbreaks of six out of the eight diseases designated “priority” by the World Health Organization: Ebola, MERS, Zika, Nipah virus, Lassa fever, and RIFT Valley fever.
  • some general observations…
  • you really can’t predict; so don’t kid yourself…
  • long-term relationships, which build trust, really matter…
  • Matthews is right; longevity does count, because teams grow stronger over time, more loyal to one another, more open, more trustworthy, and more robust. …But going into a crisis with high levels of trust and solidarity provides an advantage that can’t be manufactured in the moment.

My six lessons and takeaways:
I always conclude my synopses with my lessons and takeaways.  Here are my six for this book: 

#1 – We are not ready for the coming future. We think we are. We are not.
#2 – The people who will help us get ready for the coming future are probably not in our immediate circle.  Widen your circle.
#3 – Widen your circle(s) now; and keep widening it, before the next challenge arrives.
#4 – We simply must get better at observing; widely — and pondering what we observe.
#5 – Be on the lookout for the good flukes.
#6 – Once the next challenge arrives, again don’t kid yourself. There will be a next one; and another one; and many other ones…

Here’s the bad news. This pandemic; this election; this crisis and challenge will not be the last we ever face.  There will be others. Maybe soon. Maybe worse. We have got to become good at being prepared for that next new next. This book can help.


My synopsis of this excellent Heffernan book is available

My synopsis of this excellent Heffernan book is available; click on cover image to order synopsis

My synopsis will be available soon.  Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, along with the audio recording of my presentation.  Click here for our newest additions.


First, the Plan – then the Execution

“If you don’t want to go to Plan B, have a good Plan A.” 
Alex, on Nikita

I love it when a plan comes together.”
Colonel Jon “Hannibal” Smith, The A-Team


From Tim Berry, What Makes a Good Plan?

Here’s Chapter Eight of Toy Box Leadership:  Leadership Lessons from the Toys You Loved as a Child by Ron Hunter Jr. & Michael E. Waddell:

Little Green Army Men — Strategy:  Success is in the Setup

Success is in the setup…

Have you planned your day?  Do you know what you are going to do today.  With each hour of the day?  With each quarter hour of each hour?

What about your week?  Do you know what you are going to do with your week?  Each day of the week?  Each hour of each day?  Each…

Do you what what you are going to do with your month?

Are you beginning to get the picture?  You will get more done the better you plan.  Oh, the plan might have to be adjusted.  But, to quote again this great wisdom from Dwight Eisenhower:

Plans are nothing; planning is everything.

There is a reason that the old wisdom endures.  “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail…” is a piece of that old wisdom.  And it is still, and will always, be, true.

Setup – plan. Then work your plan.

Call this strategy, then execution. 

So, how good a planner are you?

If You Are Too Busy To Plan, You Are Too Busy! – Dan Weston Really Can Help You Plan for a Profitable, Successful 2012

How busy are you?

If you are like me, you are so busy doing your job that you practically never have time to think about doing your job better.

We do not save time for planning, for coming up with a new and or improved strategy.  To actually go through such a process could be the very best use of our time.  But, I suspect, most of us don’t even have a workable process for planning.  So, we need to plan, but we don’t take the time to plan, and we don’t have a process to help us plan.  We are planning deficient in every way.

We’re so busy:  too many fires to put out, too many distractions.  And, we have our actual work to do, every day, always demanding our attention.  And so, we just plod through, day after day, and make few of the changes that would help us be more productive.

2012 is right around the corner.  I think a full day to think about 2012, to plan for 2012, would be a really valuable day – don’t you?

Dan Weston, a Certified Emeritus Gazelles Coach

Dan Weston has the workshop we need.  Based on the Verne Harnish book and principles/habits, the Mastering the Rockefeller Habits Workshop is just the right mix of a little content, a little prodding, a little coaching, and a lot of time to work through your own plan for 2012.  Dan Weston, a Certified Emeritus Gazelles Coach, is a master at leading you in your own planning session.  He guides, you work.  It really is a day worth your time and investment.

You could do this on your own – by yourself.  But you probably won’t.  (Did you take a day last year, to plan for 2011?)

Dan will “make” you plan for 2012. In fact, without a day like this, 2012 will just happen to you.  And, at the end of the year, you’ll say I should have planned better.  Don’t let that happen!  This way, you have a shot at being proactive, more “in charge” of your 2012.

So, reserve your spot, carve out your entire day, bring your key team members, and plan to plan for a profitable growth year in 2012.

Click here for all the details.


Here’s what Dan Weston promises for his workshop:

Learn how to accelerate profitable growth using the Rockefeller Habits.

You will learn these principles for growth and build the following areas of your One-Page Strategic Plan for 2012:

Core Values & Purpose: Enliven your identity and energize your employees
Ideal Customer & Brand Promise: Develop clarity on your “who” and on your unique, targeted and measurable differentiator
Growth Targets & One-Year Plan: Set your strategic targets for the next 3-5 years and your measurable, one-year goals and priorities for 2012
> Priorities & Metrics: Make your most critical short-term decisions for your 13-week race by setting quarterly and personal priorities and metrics
Communication Rhythms: Develop practical and efficient regular meeting rhythms to keep meetings short and effective
Top Talent: Learn to identify, hire and retain A performers who will accelerate your growth
Clarity & Accountability: Ensure everyone in your company is clear on accountabilities and has a roadmap for growth

 All participants will receive a FREE copy of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits!


Dan Weston, and his Mastering the Rockefeller Habits Workshop, sponsored the September First Friday Book Synopsis.  But, I can speak personally, Dan Weston is the real deal, and this day would be an invaluable day for you and your company.

You Know that Next Action You are Supposed to Take? – So, Do It Already! (a little insight from David Allen, and the Navy SEALs)

Some reminders from David Allen (Getting Things Done):

Stuff:  anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven‘t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step.  As long as it is still “stuff,” it’s not controllable.  It is “an amorphous blob of undoability!”

When a culture adopts “What’s the next action?” as a standard operating query, there’s an automatic increase in energy, productivity, clarity, and focus.

Forget everything (clear your mind of everything), so that you can remember everything you have to do!

Do everything you have to do – one next action at a time.

Next Step (Next Action):  the very next physical action required to move a situation forward!

Discipline yourself to make front-end decisions about all the “inputs” you let into your life so that you will always have a plan for “next actions” that you can implement or renegotiate at any moment.

Keep reminders of your next step where you will see them!

David Allen basically said this: when you don’t know the thing/task you are supposed to do next, then you have a failure of planning.  So, stop what you are doing (make that “not doing”), and plan your next next actions.  Always know the “next action(s)” you need to take.

I think this is really right, and smart, and so very simple.  But…  maybe it is not that simple.  If you are like me, you don’t always know your next action.  You/We fail to plan to that level of detail, that level of specificity.

That level of clarity.

And, as a result, we fall behind, or let the important stuff slip through the cracks.

Consider this, from The Leadership Lessons of the Navy SEALs:

You’ve got a job.  By being there, you’ve accepted that job.  You have specific things to do.  And if you fail at those things, a lot of other people are going to have to pay the price… You may be smart, but if you don’t take ownership of the work at hand, everyone else is going to have to pay for what you didn’t do.

So getting and being clear on your next actions, and then doing them, makes all the difference.

Now, sometimes, we might want to think “big picture,” “dream a little,” and so we feel paralyzed because we are not quite sure just where to go next.

But after saying all of this, most of the time our failure to execute is just that – a failure to execute.  We know the next action, we just don’t actually do the next action.

From the Navy SEALs book again:

“the vast majority of the time, you know what you should do.”

Yes, you/we do.

So, here is your assignment.  Plan your next action(s).  Then, do your next next action(s).

So, let’s do it already.



Once you Decide and Plan — It’s All About Execution

Yes, plans can be tough to make.  Planning done right is hard work, and a failure to plan leads to ongoing failure down the road.  But most business failure has more to do with a failure to execute than it does with a failure to plan.

This message was stated clearly in the Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan book:  Execution:  The Discipline of Getting Things Done.  They wrote:  “Many people regard execution as detail work that’s beneath the dignity of a business leader.  That’s wrong. To the contrary, it’s a leader’s most important work…  Putting an execution environment in place is hard, but losing it is easy…  When a company executes, its people are not victims…  When a company executes well, its people are not brought to their knees by changes in the business environment.”  Here’s their definition of execution:  Execution is a systematic process of rigorously discussing hows and whats, questioning, tenaciously following through, and ensuring accountability.

A few other books have picked up and built upon the execution theme.  Notably, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution:  Solving the One Business Problem that Makes Solving All Other Problems Easier by Gary Harpst.  In this book, Harpst quotes from business guru Michael Porter:  “It’s better to have grade-B strategy and grade-A execution than the other way around.” I like Harpst’s simple reminder:  STRATEGY:  DECIDING WHAT TO DO — EXECUTION:  GETTING IT DONE. “Of the two, execution is far more difficult to achieve.”

Another volume to consider is the one by Amir Hartman,  Ruthless Execution:  What Business Leaders Do When Their Companies Hit The Wall.  He finds execution especially valuable when a company hits a tough spot:  “Ruthless execution is the method and strategies that business leaders employ to break through performance walls.”

I thought of these books in church this morning.  We had a guest preacher, the regional Bishop for the Methodist Church, Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe.  He asked a simple question:  “What is unfinished?  What unfinished business do you need to finish?”  The text was from 2 Corinthians 8:11 —  “Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it.”  The subject  at hand dealt with helping those in need.  But the underlying principle was unmistakable:  finish what you start.  Finish what you plan.  Plan — then execute your plan.

So, yes, I confess that my mind drifted to these business volumes in the middle of church.  Why?  Because the truth is inescapable — for business, and for my own life.  Starting is relatively easy.  Finishing strong, finishing well… executing.  That’s where success is truly won.

{To purchase my synopses of Execution and Six Disciplines Execution Revolution, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site}.