In business we plan for everything. Marketing, sales, finances, capital projects; when money is involved, people’s livelihood and careers at stake and customers are depending on you, plans are vitally important. We shouldn’t leave the office without one because plans allow us to measure our progress. Plans give our work and that of others, purpose, direction and meaning. George Harrison’s lyric “"If you don't know where you're going, any road'll take you there" ” is apropos to the importance of plans.
So, in business, planning is very important. But, not every important thing should be planned. There are times when it might be best to take a different road or to be like Alice, in Alice in Wonderland, and to just think about going somewhere, any place at all, as long as it is not the same old. There are times when it is best to get lost. Go for a wander, without a plan or map by which you measure your “progress”. Get off the well-beaten paths of your strategies and plans and just explore. Think about how some of our best work and discoveries were the result of tinkering, intellectually wandering or just simply exploring around. Post-it Notes, Velcro and the discovery of America come to mind.
This summer, travelling in Ukraine I didn’t have the benefit of Foursquare, Yelp or Facebook to help me plan my day or my meals. I had to rely on other people and myself. I had to ask questions, use my sense of curiosity and call on my sense of adventure. Was I ever glad I did. I met more fascinating people, poked around in different places (some would certainly not have been advised!) and ate in interesting restaurants for a truly unique experience. An experience I could not have had had I followed a guidebook and someone else’s plan for a Ukrainian experience. Were there times I wished I had the comfort of a plan? Absolutely. Did I see all of the “must-sees”? Probably not. But, I was still able to measure my “progress”, with a different yardstick and I have vivid memories and experiences that will serve me well.
In Turkey, I had the benefit of the various aforementioned tools. But, I didn’t want them. I relied on one guidebook given to me by a friend. Importantly, I just used the maps and my friend’s thoughts and ideas. Nothing specific, just neighbourhoods to explore, foods to try and experiences to consider. It forced me to wander about Istanbul with a sense of purpose and wonder. I couldn’t have planned to meet the elder gentleman intimately familiar with the Taksim Square organizers and their planned activities. I couldn’t have planned to meet Ahmet, my unintended rescuer and new friend in Istanbul. I could have planned to see how carpets were made or watch jewelry makers at work but I would have missed out on meeting a family from a distant village and understanding the importance of carpets to their culture or how many generations of silversmiths were at work in one shop and the fears of a father that his may be the last. If I had stuck to a plan.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t have a plan. We should and we must, in business. But, even in business we need to allow for the unplanned, the synchronicity of the disparate and the spontaneity of the incongruous. How many times have you thought or said “that wouldn’t have worked better if we had planned it”? How many of you enjoy the unstructured parts of meetings, the agenda item “Other Business” that often becomes interesting business? Creativity, innovation, new thoughts, ideas and success can take many forms and many roads, if you let it. And let yourself go there.
This week, consider getting lost. Just for a while. Let yourself, your team and your minds wander a bit. Getting lost may be your best plan yet. Here are three easy steps to get you started to who knows where;
1. Look past the obvious.
Go off plan for a while and consider new possibilities. Don’t follow the crowd of your competitors. What might happen if you choose a different direction? Where might a different road take you?
2. Wander and wonder.
Pause for a moment on the A to B activity of your plan and think about C, D or even Z. What does that look like? Wonder for a while about what if and how you could go there now?
3. Create time and space.
Time seems to be a different dimension when we’re out of the office or on vacation. Leave some time on your next agenda for exploring. Find some space on your competitive map and ask yourself why no one has gone there. And why can’t you?
Have a great week.