Planning Should Not Put Us to Sleep

The business planning class I took in my MBA was one of the most painful, boring, and uninspiring classes of my entire academic career. The course was riddled with words like market segmentation, break-even points, and SWOT analysis. Even the parts that should have been exciting, vision and mission, were delivered from the perspective so bland I watched most of it from behind my eyelids.

No wonder so many people hate the idea of planning.

People avoid planning in both their personal lives and businesses to their detriment. Not planning is not being prepared. Avoiding the planning process costs people lots of money, leads them directly into problems that could have been avoided, and, most importantly, leaves huge amounts of potential opportunities, new ideas, and money on the table.

Getting people to begin spending a little more time in the planning process or at least approach it as more than some check-the-box, redundant, robotic regurgitation of what we are supposed to do or say, starts with making it less boring.

While I believe you can make the entire planning process inspiring, challenging and engaging, here are a couple simple ideas for making it a little better right now.

First, change the language. The process of business planning falls into the same “smart people” trap that academia has communicating to the real world and doctors often have communicating to their patients, they use what one of my participants called “fifty dollar words.” Instead of market analysis, you can talk about who else is trying to do what we are trying to do. Instead of break-even points, how about, “this is when we will be a real business” or “this is when we can start paying our bills.”

Changing the language might seem simple or non-essential. However, if you consider the idea that people are most likely sleeping through the planning process or engaging in it with the same energy and excitement they bring to filling out their taxes, maybe the simple strategy is at least worth a shot.

Second, focus relentlessly on what you are creating. This assumes, of course, that your plan is about creating something that was not there before. Improvements, growth, new ideas, efficiency, and more money are all new things. Too many times, planning feels like identifying which rivets are going to go into the truck on the assembly line again, and again, and again. If you are not identifying what growth, change, and potential your plan is helping create then you don’t need a plan, because the idea won’t last anyway.

Business and personal plans that don’t identify growth are really about survival, and survival is a reactive process. Plans are about being pro-active, about preparation, and about building off prior experiences to create new possibilities. The moment we forget this, the plans value generally becomes equal to the paper in which it was printed upon.

Planning does not have to be boring. It doesn’t have to feel like the statistics class taught by the monotone professor at the 7am college course our freshmen year. In fact, because it is so vitally important, it should be engaging, inspiring, and challenging enough to provoke the kind of investment in time and energy that will be required to have the plan turn into reality. And, if making something new is not the intention, why would we plan to begin with?

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