5 Tools That Make Strategic Planning More Innovative


December 3, 2020

It’s the time of year when people begin looking heavily at the change in the calendar and planning ahead.

For every company, team and leader, strategic planning is the most important activity they do on a regular basis. It sets the tone for the vision of the company, and the priorities and milestones of getting there.

Yet most treat is as nothing more than a way to back into a budget. Instead of a strategic vision, it’s no more than a financial projection dressed up to appear ‘strategic.’

For fear-driven executives, strategic planning means they have to make choices about what to say ‘no’ to. In their mind, this means cutting off possibilities and options, both of which they fall for at the drop of a hat. Ideally, strategic plans keep them from falling for shiny objects that take them away from the true focus of the business.

The answer, usually, is to create such detailed support of the strategy through mind-numbing spreadsheets of proof that it puts everyone’s mind at ease. This is a coping mechanism, not a strategy. It doesn’t question assumptions, and it focuses on affordability, not opportunity.

Strategic advisor Roger Martin says that this cost-based planning is popular because they are things that companies can plan for relative ease. It’s only natural to keep a constant eye on the bottom line. Many are the tales of organizations that didn’t and spiraled out of control. It’s just that this mindset means the way to offset costs is through revenue. Revenue planning then starts salesperson by salesperson, product by product, region by region and so on.

The problem with this approach is that companies control costs. But customers control revenue.

How effective is your current strategic vision?

1. Stinky fish

The purpose of this tool is to create openness and “clear the air” of concerns people have with strategic planning. The stinky fish is a metaphor for “that thing that you carry around but don’t like to talk about – but the longer you hide it, the stinkier it gets.” By putting stinky fish on the table, people relate to each other, get more comfortable sharing, and uncover opportunities for learning and insights.

2. How might we?

Dr. Min Basadur has spent more than four decades studying creative thinking, innovation, and problem-solving capabilities in companies. Through his work he’s found one thing that radically stands out: The language that people use can stifle creativity instead of encouraging it. For example, if someone asks, “How should we solve this problem?” or “How can we solve this problem?” you’ve already begun to limit yourself. This is because words like should and can imply judgment.

That’s how he came up with the “How might we…” phrase that some of the most innovative people in the world use. This helps people open up to possibilities that they would otherwise discount as not feasible.

Here’s how it works: Think of a simple question, such as getting your entire team to show up on time for an all-hands meeting every week. You know you’re losing valuable time and spiking frustration levels with people dropping in at different times and some never showing at all. Ask yourself the problem-solving question in the three formats:

  1. How should we get everyone to show up on time?
  2. How can we get everyone to show up on time?
  3. How might we get everyone to show up on time?

Pay attention to how your answers feel when you respond to each of the question based on how they are worded. Like Min and his team, I believe you’ll find broader, more innovative answers when you ask the question in bigger terms.

3. I like, I wish, I wonder

Feedback is a key part of any project development and crucial to the iterative process. It’s important to have a learning/growth mindset to see new possibilities and a framework in place to provide boundaries and a safe container for both the receiver and the giver of the feedback at hand. A process such as I Like, I Wish, I Wonder can support teams to collect feedback quickly.

This simple structure helps encourage constructive feedback.

“I like” is a starting point for what went well or what is positive about an idea.
“I wish” is a starting point for what could be done differently or improved.
“I wonder” can be a starting point for questions that are sill unanswered as well as new ideas that come up during the conversation.

4. Exercise of the 5 Whys

Too often, a strategic plan doesn’t actually address the root problem. When you use the Exercise of the 5 Whys, you’ll be able to reverse engineer your way into the areas of the business that truly need planning, rather than the ones that feel like the biggest pain points. While the squeaky wheel may get the oil, that doesn’t mean that the wheel is what’s causing the problem.

The process of the five whys was developed Sakichi Toyoda and was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its now famous Toyota Production System manufacturing methodologies. It was a critical component of their corporate-wide problem-solving training.

The premise is that by asking the question “why?” five times, the nature of the problem and its solution will become clear. Since Toyota originated the idea, it has since been borrowed to become a part of Lean Startup and Agile methodologies.

5. Future Mapping

The purpose of the Future Map is to create a shared view of industry trends in the recent past, present and future. By using this tool, teams map key trends from the past, present and three years into the future. Then, they review the map, identify patterns and discuss the relevance of different trends.

Are there other trends you use to be more innovative in your strategic planning? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo credit: StartUpStockPhotos via Pixabay

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.