If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
These are the opening lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”. Kipling is imploring the reader to stop and gather the proper perspective on any given situation. Perhaps more than ever we should be seeking to do the same.
Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the StratOp strategic planning process is the time and emphasis placed on gathering the proper perspective. Too many planning sessions start with the question “Where do you want to go?”. However, just like Google Maps can’t tell me how to get somewhere without first knowing where I am, the planning process suffers if the team doesn’t start with (and accurately answer) the question “Where are we now?”.
Tom Paterson, the creator of StratOp, said it over and over again: “Perspective before planning. Perspective before planning.” He believed that if you gather the proper perspective, the core plan almost wrote itself.
Paterson taught us that perspective is seeing things without distortion, correctly reading the signals of what is unfolding. It’s the result of finding truth and current realities. Finding proper perspective is a matter of squarely facing those truths.
THE CHINESE SPIRAL
During Paterson’s work in Asia, he observed that the eastern approach to problem solving often creates more thoughtful solutions. Their circuitous thinking produces a multi-dimensional answer. The StratOp process uses this method.
Our typical “western minded” approach to problem solving is a direct frontal assault (often shooting from the hip) motivated by a desire for a speedy “solution.” This approach, though it creates shorter lead times, often tends to produce one-dimensional answers to multi-dimensional problems. The risk with this approach is not seeing all sides of the problem.
Conversely, the eastern approach espoused by Paterson is more circuitous, ever-closing in. A balanced perspective is pursued through circling the potential solution through situation analysis and diagnostics. The goal is to achieve more thoughtful systematic solutions and multi-dimensional answers to multi-dimensional problems, requiring less work later through better upfront planning.
The reality is that this approach is really an ascending perspective. If you look at the diagram from the side, you’ll see that the team is ascending in its perspective, providing a 360-degree view of the situation. At the peak of this ascent, we see above the “valley floors”, giving us a clear view of the problem and solutions.
So, how does a team find the proper perspective in the context of planning? Well, in the StratOp process, we spend a day and a half on this one element alone. I don’t have the space here to lay out all the details. However, there is one tool that is extremely useful is helping teams gather perspective. It’s called “The Four Helpful Lists”, and you can download it here. By using this tool, you and your team will be able to quickly determine your core issues, and will be better situated to develop both short and long term plans.