Analyze This!

Those of you who know me know that Roger Martin’s message is one I carry with me when talking about strategic planning. For schools, it's often received with some skepticism and I get lots of healthy and thoughtful pushback. Board members often worry that the process I propose for strategy development is not logical or linear enough. It feels uncertain and ambiguous. Some want to quickly get to metrics; they want to begin with data and work off benchmarks. Some confuse an organizational audit with strategy. Faculty often react a bit differently: ranging from enormously excited to somewhat unglued or deeply resistant. It's either an adventure or it’s disruptive; either way, it’s hard work. It requires us to open up, to test our assumptions about how we operate, and to examine possibilities that might change our current reality.

It’s true that an approach like Martin’s or ours can feel "messy" and "touch feely" rather than traditionally analytical--at least at the outset. I think this can be particularly disconcerting for schools, who often assume strategy is about incremental improvement or better messaging around a core product that is relatively fixed. But today, we think that’s a dangerous assumption. Yes, there are some fundamental values we want to preserve in education, but the truth is, the what and how of education is being disrupted and the value of education is not only changing, it’s also becoming profoundly differentiated across a variety of models. Now is the time, as Martin says, to make choices and “stake out the territory you want”--and that is “an act of the imagination”.

So with that context, consider making strategic planning a process as much about learning and discovery, educated guesses, intuition, and asking "what if" and "why" as about analysis and data. English teachers remind us to write first, edit later. Similarly, great strategists imagine first, analyze later. Value emerges in the intersection of imagining and analyzing (of the left and right sides of the brain), because it’s tough to analyze well if we do not first understand what matters most and what problem or opportunity is most relevant.