Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Long and the Short of Strategic Planning

Is anyone still with me after that uninspiring title? Well done, your fortitude is admirable. Read on.

I used to work in the regeneration industry. For the uninitiated, that means I worked for organisations, mainly in the public sector, who spent shed-loads of taxpayers’ cash tarting up run down neighbourhoods. We would prettify derelict buildings and convert them into fancy loft apartments, or set up schemes to help people into jobs, or do what we could to stem the inexorable spiral downwards which is the usual outcome of poverty and failing schools.

Social decline is a tough cookie. It was a tall order, trying to put that lot right, and not for the faint-hearted or unduly sentimental. It was all about objectives, outcomes, outputs, and above all, it was about strategy.

I fucking hated strategy. 

On an intellectual level I understood the word, it had to do with planning and thinking ahead, doing now what would help to deliver the desired result later. Woe betide anyone in the regeneration game who couldn’t wax lyrical about strategic goals, long and short term objectives, and the like. I could do it with the best of them, I had a living to earn.

But I never believed a word of it. Now, having been out of that arena for a few years, I think the proof is out there and plain enough. The run-down inner city areas where I and my colleagues invested millions in public funds are, for the most part, still populated by people who can’t get their kids into a decent secondary school because they have the wrong postcode, will never enjoy a foreign holiday, and can expect to die on average ten years earlier than the rest of us. But they have double glazing, so that’s all right.

The long term strategy for improving the quality of their lives might have been the right one, there again it might not. Certainly our hearts were in the right place, and most of the regeneration professionals I worked with genuinely wanted to leave the world a better place than they found it.

Nowadays I avoid all things strategic. Short term planning is OK, I feel better organised when I have a list of today’s must-dos, and might stretch that to a week. Two months ago, flushed with New Year fever and possibly a tad too much Merlot, I even mused – briefly – about what goals I might set myself for 2017. How many books I might write, earnings targets, new marketing avenues to explore. By 5 January I had slipped back into my sloppy, meandering ways and was comfortable again.

It works for me. Long term, I want to write. Exactly what, when and why I leave unspecified, but I will churn out smutty prose as and when I feel like it and I’ll know the right story when it pops into my head. There is no benefit, for me, in mapping it all out months or even years in advance. That only makes me depressed and worried.

What if I miss a deadline, fail to hit some self-imposed target or other? No, thank you. I much prefer to look back and say, ‘hey, that was nice, well done me’, rather than scan the future horizons with a worried air and a calculator to hand.

I am gloriously unstrategic. These days I live for now, enjoy the moment, wallow in the short term and the blessedly haphazard. I let the long term future take care of itself because it always will. It always did, actually, despite the most finely honed goal-setting and impact measuring of the urban and social planners. 

That, for me, is the long and the short of strategic planning.


  1. Long-term planning doesn't acknowledge the unexpected, which we can be sure will occur. Best to learn to think on our feet, staying nimble, keeping us prepared to alter plans when the basics change.

  2. Ashe, I must apologize for apparently co-opting half of your title. I saw yours on the "posts" listing just as i was so belatedly posting mine last night, after a long day away dealing with some of my elderly father's medical issues. I should have changed mine then, but my brain was mush. I've been late posting twice in a row, I think, so it looks like I should actually pay more attention to strategic planning and get my posts done well ahead of time. No guarantees, though.

  3. Amen, Ashe. Life is full of serendipitous opportunities and unexpected tragedies in any case. Long term planning may be just a way of assuaging our anxiety.

  4. Good approach, Ashe. I think there is a happy medium between having NO plan for the future (e.g. being a secondary-school dropout living in one's parents' basement with no job & no plan to look for one) and being too devoted to reaching a certain goal by a certain date (e.g. getting a novel onto the bestseller lists within ten years).

  5. "I am gloriously unstrategic."

    I love that you say this and are comfortable with it. There is so much pressure to be otherwise, and I very much admire you knowing what works for you and going with it.


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