A Creative Approach to Strategic Planning

By Thompson, Patti; Brooks, Kathy | CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine, July-August 1997 | Go to article overview
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A Creative Approach to Strategic Planning

Thompson, Patti, Brooks, Kathy, CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine

How do you make sure your strategic planning process gives you the competitive advantages you need? Don't work through it, think through it! And "think outside the box!"

It's planning season again. In meeting rooms across the country you and your competitors are poring over files, reports, statistics... looking at similar types of information... hoping to come up with unique and better ways to do essentially the same things. You are looking for ideas to provide real competitive advantage... searching for ways to become or remain the best... the leader in your industry.

Now ask yourself, "How are we going to find the better way by looking at the same data, and using the same standard planning methodologies?" The answer is, "We can't."

It's time to start "thinking" differently about your business. Don't work through your strategic plan... think through it!

Let's go back a step.

It's 9:00 p.m. on a Sunday evening. Your senior team is meeting at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning to embark on its annual strategic planning process. You have dusted off the strategic planning model which the company has traditionally used. You pause to consider the challenges that your team is facing, unprecedented in the past decade: volatile customer demand, new competitors, and an all-time-low level of morale after the recent wave of layoffs.

The good news is that your competitors are facing the same challenges. It's an all too common picture in organizational life today. These enormous changes and challenges call for a new way of thinking and responding - and, most importantly, a new approach to strategic planning. The organizations that come out on top are going to be the ones that break the conventional "thinking" and "planning" molds.

Figure 1

MICA'S strategic planning model

Step 1     Market, customer, and organization
           analysis. Present and future scan.

Step 2     Create the vision.

Step 3     Generate strategies and tactics.

Step 4     Harvest the concepts and ideas.

Step 5     Evaluation and refinement of
           strategies and tactics.

Step 6     Action planning.

Step 7     Measuring and monitoring.

The weak link in so many strategic planning models is the lack of innovation. If we are all looking at the same market and customer trend data, how are we going to out-think and outsmart our competition? We need to be able to build a wall of ideas that supports a new, clear vision of the future - a wall of ideas that separates us from our competitors.

Many organizations are now doing just that. Innovative thinking... abstract thinking... lateral thinking... whatever term you use, the ability to be "creative" has become a critical component of business acumen.

Many Fortune 500 companies, such as DuPont, Monsanto, Royal Bank, Disney, Thomson Corporation, Bell, Hewlett Packard, Bank of Montreal, Ciba Vision, etc., are specifically training their employees to "think outside the box."

Companies are bringing in creativity experts to train their people or to facilitate their planning sessions by guiding the thinking along more creative routes. There are several consulting firms that do this type of work, each using its own brand of creativity tools to help its client organizations. Our firm uses the frameworks and tools of Dr. Edward de Bono, a leading authority on creative and conceptual thinking for over 25 years. According to de Bono, "Ideas are the currency of success."

The ultimate goal in any planning initiative should be to develop the strategies and tactics that will put your organization on a higher plane than your competitors in the eyes of customers and shareholders. de Bono refers to this as "surpetition" - or rising above your competition by creating your own race. Disney is a good example of an organization that has achieved "surpetition," another example would be Microsoft.

But how can this be done?

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