Recently, Eric and I were in Phoenix for a business coaching conference and we decided that we’d spend time at Grand Canyon (you’re not supposed to say “the” before Grand Canyon) since it is just a few hours away.
What could be better than doing our strategic planning while surrounded by one of the most powerful vistas in the world? To be thinking big picture while surrounded by a huge picture. And honestly, this was in the middle of what has been a particularly long and cold winter—the warmth and sunshine would be a relief.
It was perfect, except for one thing.
When the unexpected happens
You already know that Grand Canyon is in a high altitude desert. The locals we spoke to said they get about 14 inches of precipitation a year. It’s not much. But the thing about precipitation isn’t just how much you get, but how and when it arrives. If it’s spaced out evenly over time, things tend to go very well. But if it arrives all at once, it tends to create a problem.
We had a problem. The day we arrived, Grand Canyon received almost one half of their annual precipitation . . . in snow . . . in the desert.
To say it snowed is an understatement. It was a blizzard. Visibility was reduced to almost nothing. The helicopter tour we had planned was cancelled. Basically all of our plans were shot.
There are some things we just don’t expect to happen. And then, against all odds, they do. And keep happening.
I’ve lost count of the times that people have said, “Well that’s just not realistic” or “That will never happen.” And that’s OK. We all have to gauge the likelihood of different things happening that will affect our business.
But they do happen. Those unexpected, unlikely, almost impossible things happen.
Sometimes it snows in the desert.
The question is, are you ready?
You don’t have to be ready for a snowstorm in a desert. That’s not what this is about.
But you do need to be ready for the unexpected as well as for that which you cannot prepare.
If we tried to prepare for every eventuality, we’d run out of time, money, and resources. And we wouldn’t be any further ahead in our businesses. So we need to take a different approach.
There’s the well-worn expression, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” We all know we’re supposed to plan. The challenge is to know what we should be planning for. Usually we focus on what we plan to do and don’t give enough thought to what others are planning—whether it’s our competitors or our clients.
The flip side is that most strategic planning collapses when it hits reality. We’ve probably all heard the expression, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Even Mike Tyson said that, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”
Strategic planning done right
So what to do? We know we’re supposed to plan. We can’t plan for everything. And we know our plans typically don’t work.
Strategic planning is a safe thing to do. It’s a good thing to do. But all of this shows us that what we need is something bigger than a plan. Something stronger than a plan. We need something deeper and more powerful that will get us through anything.
What we need is a powerful sense of purpose. We need a vision of the future we’re trying to create and a commitment so powerful that nothing—regardless of how unlikely—will stop us.
Goals falter. Plans collapse. We have no idea what will hit us next.
But vision always finds a way.
There’s a moment — many of them — when a business leader knows they need help. Sometimes it’s because they need to get to the next level. Sometimes they’re in crisis. And sometimes they’re just frustrated that they’re not getting the results they’re after. Those are defining moments and refining moments. Being able to come alongside them and work together to get beyond that moment is one of the greatest pleasures I have working with clients.