The earth is not flat. We take this fact for granted sometimes. But there was a point in time where everyone in the world believed it was – and it was fact as they knew it. But sailors figured it out. They realized they were constantly adjusting their course to account for winds, drift, and even the curvature of the earth – a little piece of math that we now understand to be the Mercator Projection. Sailors knew they couldn’t set a course for their destination and expect to get there automatically. They had to account for all the variables that influenced their path. They had to account for reality – the reality that the world wasn’t flat.
Our plans often suffer the same fate. Organizations lay out their strategic plans, long-term goals, and objectives along their path, but reality gets in the way. The strategic environment changes, unexpected obstacles appear, and the plan soon appears less relevant to the immediate concerns of day-to-day friction. Goals that appear completely reasonable and achievable soon seem out of reach or completely irrelevant to the challenges the company is facing today.
The reaction many organizations take to friction is to discard their plan, adapt to the current reality, and adopt a reactionary stance that allows them to deal with today’s problems. But what about the original strategy that everyone thought through, agreed upon, bought into, and committed resources towards?
Did the sailors throw away the map when they drifted off-course? Absolutely not! They wouldn’t dare. Instead, they used the map to help them determine where they were relative to where they wanted to be and plotted a new route to get to where they originally planned.
This is what good strategies do for organizations. They provide a map. The map becomes the shared vision to help the team arrive at the same destination, despite friction. When the environment changes and pushes the team off course, the strategy becomes the map to direct towards the right destination. The myriad of variables are taken into account, plans are developed to mitigate their effects, and soon the team is back on course. With a new course plotted towards the same goal, and with mitigation plans in place, the team has learned how to stay on course despite friction. The next time those influences come into play, the team automatically corrects the course and they are better equipped to deal with new challenges that come along.
This is how learning organizations function best. They build adaptable plans that allow for the ever-changing environment. They stay on course regardless of the winds, currents, and the curves of the earth. Great companies plan for their journey based on the realities of their world, learn from their environment, and adjust their course to arrive at their planned destination – having become better along their journey for what they learned.
Don’t throw away your map. Adjust for the curves of the earth!