Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and president and CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development and design thinking consulting firm.
In Dan Ariely's book "Predictably Irrational," there is a chapter called “Why a 50-cent aspirin can do what a penny aspirin can’t.” If you haven’t read this book, you should. It calls into question a lot of the decisions we make and the root causes behind why we make them.
In many respects, planning is about developing a set of possible solutions. It isn’t our job to implement these solutions, but rather to present clients with frameworks for success and increases in capacity.
So, what of the 50-cent aspirin? The reason I began this post with that is because sometimes clients search for the 50-cent solution when the penny solution will do.
But isn’t the 50-cent solution always going to be better? The answer is no. I’m not talking about the actual price of the strategic planning services or even the cost of the implementation of the solution – what I am referring to lies in the amount of complexity in the solution framework presented as a result of the planning process.
It is easy to get caught up in a solution that seems to have many bells and whistles. A 50-cent solution. But is that what you need? Does it solve the core problem, make the improvement(s), or build capacity in a way that meets the baseline expectations? Or is it more bells and whistles than a framework for solutions? Activities and actions solving fringe issues rather than aimed at the core or critical?
Strategic planning works because it offers an opportunity for organizations to build a long-term vision for what they wish to accomplish. If this long-term vision is overwrought with complexity, or constructed around a framework that is not built on solid user data or analytics, then what appears to be a well-developed plan will disintegrate during the implementation phase.
We have a tendency to naturally assume that if something is more complex or more expensive, then it must be better. I’ve found that almost universally the opposite is true.
When a plan is too complex, it will seem too hard for stakeholders to get traction on any single area, which may cause a cascading effect on the entire plan, causing it to fail. During the planning phase, this complexity may have felt good by virtue of sheer volume of information – safety in numbers of a sort. But if you move into the tactical portion of the planning phase without properly winnowing, filtering and/or phasing this earlier raw data, the volume of information will work against successful implementation.
Successful strategic planning balances complexity with relativism and practicality. Strategic planning works because it allows these three ingredients to mix, based on the needs of the individual or organization. When this mix is optimized, the penny solution will feel like a 50-cent solution, because you will find success in implementation. If your headache only needs a penny aspirin, why waste the other 49 cents?
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