The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray

OK, I know that the line above is a corruption of the original Robert Burns poem in which the lines read:

“…In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”

How many of us these days feel that Burns was not only a savvy observer of human behaviour (and of mousekind), but also a very prescient business analyst? We plan, create budgets, re-examine mission statements, bash out spreadsheets, test out the financial metrics, look at comparisons of key performance indicators, consult with futurologists and so on and so on. But, is anyone out there clear about what is really going to be happening in their business?

Apparently Dwight Eisenhower said that all plans were useless, but planning was indispensable. We can probably all agree with that. Also, the book Bravo Two Zero introduced many to the apparent SAS/military maxim of the Seven Ps: Proper Prior Planning Prevents P**s Poor Performance. No argument with that, either.

However, some are suggesting that the corporate notion of business planning is out-moded, because events unfold in ways that are impossible to predict and business/markets develop in unforeseen ways. That is all our experiences isn’t it?

However, even those who might boast of never having written a business plan for fear it might stifle their entrepreneurial approach, have surely had at least an idea in mind of what they were trying to do and how they were going to do it.

What is now truer than ever though, is that planning needs to be less formal, less driven by finance departments and more subject to constant review. It needs to be a continuous process and needs to take place more in the mind and less on paper. That is a huge challenge for larger organisations. This seat-of-your-pants approach is easier for those not requiring investment or answerable to outside investors. This means that planning and plans have to be with us.

Unfortunately then, although the old quote that ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ still holds sway and keeps us planning, the reality is going to be that Robert Burns will invariably be proved right.

Published on May 27, 2010 by Neil Thomas