The recent Seth Godin blog post 'Our inability to see ahead' talks about the perils of planning in an unpredictable world and closes with the reflection "Assume that your plans are wrong... Expect that you'll be surprised".
Seth's point - that it's dangerous or naive to place too much reliance on plans, and the planning process, when our environment is so dynamic - is a good one; The Butterfly Effect (aka Chaos Theory, aka Law of Unintended Consequences) suggests that even the tiniest unforeseen influence can generate an exponential, even catastrophic impact on a system or plan.
But what's our alternative? We can hardly just act randomly and hope for the best.
I think it comes down to a mix of reactive flexibility (how we respond to our fluid environment), and proactive influence (how we encourage, or direct, the flow).
The reactive aspect, and it's perhaps also slightly protectionist, is about mitigating the damage that uncertainty can wreak - for example:
The proactive approach is more about harnessing unpredictability and seeking to make it work for you:
How important is all this? Look up Gerald Ratner (1991 Ratners), John Pluthero (2006 Cable & Wireless), David Shephard (2001 Topman) (...the list goes on..) for some painful examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences in action.
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By Kevin Sheldrake
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