Tolstoy and Strategic Planning

There is a great line in Tolstoy’s War and Peace:   “ . . . in military matters, the most profoundly devised plans meant nothing . . .everything depended on how one responded to the unexpected and the unpredictable.”  [Tolstoy, of course, through the words of Prince Adrei, one of his central characters [p. 632 in my edition]. 

It is for me a reminder that when it comes to thinking and acting strategically, there is no way that one may anticipate the future.   As any who have read Institutional Intelligence know, I really doubt the value of extended strategic planning sessions.   The world is too fluid; the variables are too, well, variable.   There are too many factors that one cannot fully anticipate.  But one can and must think strategically and be alert to what is developing and emerging and might, of course, significantly alter how one might respond.

 And what guides is in this process – of responding to the unexpected and the unpredictable, is the following –

  • What is our mission and thus what is mission critical?
  • What are the core commitments that will shape our response to opportunities and the unknowns that we will face when we round the bend?
  • What are the institutional strengths that we can and must leverage when it comes to how we read and respond to our environment?
  • And, can we manage our fears through the time of transition and uncertainty. 

The last point is crucial.   I suppose some think that if we have a clear strategic plan then this will be that which lowers our anxiety level.   But in a fluid environment, the only antidote to fear is clarity about our mission and our capacity and the courage to do what needs to be done.   Again, another quote from War and Peace:  “The moral hesitation that resolves a battle . . . is fear.”

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.