Andy Grove, one of the people who created the modern giant that is Intel, was once allegedly to have said that “only the paranoid survive” and although he claims to not remember saying it he went on to write a book by the same title. Grove wasn’t some nut living in a basement, but the very open leader of Intel when it grew at astonishing speeds to become world leader. What Grove was really talking about was keeping an eye on the external world. In his book he talks about an organisation (any organisation) having a ‘strategic inflection point.’ That is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But Grove point outs that it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end.
Another quote attributed this time to Charles Darwin (which no scholar can actually find in any of his work) that is even better known is “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Although the messages of these fine men are often quoted it is amazing that so many organisations to not take heed. This is particularly true in the social sector, where often the month to month survival like that of any SME, is more important. Yet many organisations will conduct strategic planning without a proper analysis of not only their environment but of the wider context in which their organisation exists and will exist. It means that when the unexpected (according to them) happens it is a ‘shock.’
Too many strategists and indeed leaders (I would argue of all hues) assume that acknowledgement of such shocks ‘smacks of speculation.’ Far too many leaders, be they in government, military, corporate or non-profit, are too concerned with the present. There are tools for analysing such issues be it horizon scanning or indeed the use of established strategic foresight. This is one of the reasons why the Ryan Academy is putting on a two day module in Foresight Planning on the second and third of March, partly delivered by a leading ‘futurist’ from the UK. To apply a proverb “Forewarned is Forearmed.”