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Disagreeing Isn’t always the smarter thing to do

Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

I was reading an article in an online publication recently centered on the “death of strategy”. I tried to stay as objective as possible, as my natural tendency is to reject the premise and move onto something else. What kept me engaged this time was a trend I see more and more in articles, in meetings, and online – disagreement as a mechanism to convey “smarts” about a specific subject.

My reaction is probably rooted in the flash-fad, click-bait ecosystem that we are trending toward at the moment. Click-bait, for those who don’t know, are those links with strange photos that demand attention at the bottom of many of the news sites we all visit…”Bad news for so and so…” or “Grocery stores fear him…” or the ever-present “iPhone Killer!” Our growing desensitization has caused an escalation in what it takes to maintain someone’s attention about a new product, subject, or bit of information, and so, from this, click-baiting was born.

Let’s go back to the “iPhone Killer!” click-bait for a moment. We are so intent on destroying the previous thing, or negating an old concept or offering as the only way to stress the benefit of the new concept or offering, that we have forgotten how to evolve an old concept or idea into a new one, or at least keep the parts that work well so we can build on them for the next generation. You don’t need to kill the iPhone to make the next phone or establish the next phone is better - even if it is better. There is room in the marketplace for multiple devices, all tailored to specific consumer preferences.

When I read that strategy was dead, I really wanted to know why that person felt that way. As I was reading, I found the author spent more time trying to disentangle them from what I would consider best practices in the strategy world than they did explaining what the next generation of strategic planning is. Making an argument should be for something, not simply pointing to something else and saying that it is wrong.

When you are working with a group, and that group has an established mission, vision, and series of objectives, being critical is essential to success. Being critical is structurally different than disagreeing in a few key ways:

  1. Being critical is constructive; feedback is meant to generate a positive outcome based on prior work.
  2. Being critical is assembling; that is it a rigorous and structured analysis of what is currently in place.
  3. Being critical is not emotional; it is rooted in objective, evidence-based reactions to data.
  4. Being critical should appeal to the analytical nature of re-design or implementation; not a knee-jerk headline or something designed to create a false sense of urgency.
  5. Being critical is based on a reason or reasons, with development beyond a visceral reaction to a concept.

Strategic planning is not dead and I saw no reason in the article to make me think that it was. I do believe that it is evolving based on the changing needs of those who choose to engage it as their process in finding greater organizational success. There is no “strategic planning killer!” on the horizon. Planning for an organization is not ever meant to be sensational – it is meant as an iterative process that aggregates and creates a solid framework for evolution, innovation, growth, and is able to adapt and react to the stresses of change. Disagreeing with something just for the sake of disagreeing doesn’t make your argument more valid; sometimes it only uncovers how little you understand about what it truly is.

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