How far can we plan communities, organisations, our lives... and how far should we expect to go with the flow of what happens? Old question, but do we have any new answers?
"No plan survives first engagement with the enemy" said von Clausewitz.
As a consultant it is tempting to run workshop groups through exercises that promise a business plan, action plan, routemap. Tasks are identified, timescales laid out, responsibilities assigned....then reality hits as soon as everyone gets out of the door.
Harold Macmillan got it rights when asked by a reporter what caused the greatest difficulties in his time as Prime Minister. Pausing for effect, he replied "Events dear boy, events."
The problem if you work as an adviser is that it is pretty difficult to sell the idea that life is messy, stuff happens, flexibility is all... even when people know that. They want certainty, deliverables, outcomes.
It was some comfort therefore to find John Moore writing about The Perils of Planning , and citing Curt Rosengren on Embracing the Detours. Curt asks: "Are you white-knuckling your path, or are you letting life organically unfold?". This led me check Curt's home page and find that he is a Passion Catalyst. He works with people "who have reached the point in their career where they're saying, "What the @#%$! am I doing here?" in order to help "identify their passions and create careers that ignite them". If I lived in Seattle I would definitely take him up on the offer of a free half hour over coffee. For now I'll have to settle for his blog The Occupational Adventure.
Should we do the same in some of our community-wide planning, and be more prepared to organise around enthusiasms?
Kipling in the Just So Stories gave us Six honest serving men
"(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who."
... and those are still the six that journalists are told to make sure that they have in a story, and we try and get into our action plans with tasks, timelines and responsibilities.
The difficulties occur, it seems to me, when we try and bring certainty to the what, how and when in situations where the 'whos' have different ideas about the 'whys', and Macmillan's 'events' are unpredictable.
What happens, in practice, is that things get done because people decide they will make an effort, whether they are politicians, entrepreneurs or volunteers.
That's fine in many ways, but it does mean that the action is led by those with the greatest confidence and capability. How do we promote (if we wish to) participative democracy when it's pretty difficult for people to understand what they are participating in? Hmm. Another theme around which to cluster some resources. Meanwhile....
Another social technologist refocuses on ..... people
How to start an unsatisfactory engagement
Making changes in messy systems