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Disrupting Business Planning
23/05/2016 - "Disrupting Business Planning" by Donal Carroll

Disrupting Business Planning

 ‘Would like another’ * (A teaser: Ever look at your business plan and think this? A key part of managing business uncertainties is staying open to, and creating new possibilities. So, can you imagine 2 less predictable sources for this quote?  Answer at end)   

 Starting in an odd place?  

 ‘It is difficult to get the news from poetry yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.’ (William Carlos Williams) The same can be said for much business writing. Many organisations ‘die’ by getting the wrong news; refusing news they don’t like; trusting partial news; embracing only comfortable news; or not seeking any news at all. Of course many also might have ‘died’ regardless of ‘news’.      

 Why do small businesses fail?

‘Business owners often cite external factors as barriers to growth but one big problem lies much closer to home; a lack of leadership and entrepreneurial skills.’ (FT 6 Oct 2015) 

There are over 5million private enterprises in the UK.  3.5m have no employees and just 200k employs more than 10 staff. (BIS stats) Also around 500,000 were launched in 2013, a trend likely to continue and this excludes sole traders. However, the vast majority fail, do not last more than 5 years, or ‘coast’- generating little more than the minimum wage for their founders.     To have a better chance of longer term success, even at the planning stage, businesses need to anticipate inevitable problems. Here are 2 forms of business planning: traditional-plus, and disruption, both seeking to address common weaknesses eg the Gravestone method: ‘it’s set in stone regardless of its effect’; the Straight Ahead Blind method: ‘we weren’t told we’d need to see around corners?’; or the Comfortable Obsessing method: single item-sized focus (mainly what the owner enjoys) rather than holistic-sized focus.  Both seek to integrate explicitly the thinking-effort demanded at the initial stage.  If the business plan is to be the business brain, it must keep its thinking live.


1 Business Planning: Traditional-plus

This seeks to make all the relevant headings more palatable as questions. Responses need to mutually reinforce each other so together they give greater strength to the business.   (Please note: Apologies and acknowledgements: these come from a range of sources I’ve picked up and meddled with over many years)

  •  1 Who are you?

  • 2 Why does the world need you?

  • 3 What are your aspirations?( Vision, Mission, Values, Goals)

  • 4 What are you selling?

  • 5 Who are your customers?

  • 6 What’s it like out there? (In your market/sector)

  • 7 What’s the cost? Current financial situation/performance

  • 8 Who knows you’re there, how reach them and your hard and soft sell?

  • 9 Who are your competitors and how do they compare?

  • 10 Growth, capacity, ambition plans?  Complete 10 only after all the rest


Anticipating and integrating responses to future issues   

  • What if it doesn’t work? As the business develops ask: am I swimming or drowning? Have a vigilance radar, to early-detect if this isn’t working, and what next as a result.

  • How is leadership/self-leading used? How can you identify, as early as possible, what you don’t you know: how can you acquire it within 1 year eg buy or learn?

  • What is my urgency-bellows? Eg when are initial resources depleted? When (if?) are new resources available including new revenue streams?

  • Market meddling: Is your target market enlarging/contracting? Demand up/down?  Product disruption potential? How do you get over the wall into your market?

  • What is my Organisational Development Framework/Map -eg Boydell, EFQM **

  • What is my Learning culture: how do I remain open, flexible see below


2 Disrupting Business Planning using 3 Models

This has just 3 compressed headings which are meant to be at least as demanding as the 10 in the version above. The ‘models’ are the choices an organisation makes about their:

  • Business Model: how to create, deliver and capture value (what and why of business) 

  • Management Model: how effort is organised (the how of business) 

  • Learning Model: how collective thinking is mobilised (the what best next)   

 Organisations should explicitly choose their models –rather than work with default ones - to meet their current/future challenges. They then live on purpose from the start and enable faster organisational development.    

 Business Model: (This includes issues around marketing, products/services, finance) How do you create value? How do you verify this value? Who for? How reach them? What marks you out from competitors? What plans do you have for when you run out of runway (initial resourcing)? What ‘minimum viable product’ can you produce? How can you spend your energy 50/50% between developing it and marketing it?

 Management Model: From the start, how can you enable a self-managing culture of higher accountability and performance to lower the cost (numbers, inefficiency) of ‘management’? How can you develop organisational ‘agility’?

 Learning Model: How can develop collective learning to enable resilience’? How can staff be producers of learning not just consumers? How can you ensure ‘productive interference’ between the individual learning and the habits and practices of the organisation?

If ‘learning is the key unit of progress’ (Ries: The Lean Startup) identify how learning is integrated into your planning and how the rate of learning can be increased as turbulence and uncertainty increases in your business environment.

(Ideas from Managing Value by Donal Carroll shortlisted for the CMI management and leadership book of the year 2014.

Managing Value in Organisations: New Learning, Management and Business Models  


The Learning Model

What it is:

  • Crucially, it refutes self-comforting notions of ‘learning’ such as ‘I learn all the time’ (the trusting sponge model) or ‘I haven’t got time-just tell me’ (the when I grow up I want to be spoon-fed  model). Yes, some learning does occur from these but they are mainly learning-lite.   

  • Learning here mean ‘significant learning: this involves giving up previous learning (which can be a key part of the problem). It involves a change in self-organising; is disruptive and chastening. It tends to be resisted so is not automatic. It has to be earned. It makes learners independent of the circumstances which prompted its need. 

Key uses:

  • It is the midwife for changing the business and management models: to mobilise the power of collective learning needs a democratised culture –that is for all staff to be able to challenge problems, realistically, they must first challenge traditional management thinking of ‘manager knows best’ (commonly the ‘problem’ source).

  • Effective leadership and enabling distributive self-leading cannot occur without a vertebrate learning model. Nor can the flexibility and success-drive that is key to ‘being entrepreneurial’ (See FT comment above)

  • It is the biggest disrupter - and the best response to disruption

  • It enables problem holders to see that the ‘problem’ is not the problem but their response to it – and frequently the porcupine-like heavy defence of previous learning which itself needs disrupting

  • It is hidden but powerful and available in all organisations: the challenge for all owners is to risk finding/releasing it!

  • It is immensely flexible: in systems, that part with most flexibility ends up controlling the whole system; thus it has the greater capacity to transform 

  • Finally: it is free – again, if you find the culture to release it

 Let us know what you think.

 * ‘My husband, a Royal Artillery captain, was killed in action. Would like another’: a woman client quoted in Marriages are made in Bond Street: stories from a 1940 Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson. Hope you didn’t get trapped in the obvious

** Organisational development ‘maps: Boydell 4 stages Doing things anyhow/Doing things well/ Doing things better/ Doing better things. EFQM/ Business Excellence: consists of Enablers, processes, results  



Visitors' Comments on this Post

25/05/2016 Comment posted by Claudia Crawley
Interesting post Donal. I love your 3 models for disrupting business planning. Worth a try I think, particularly as the traditional business planning whilst necessary, bores me to death and takes away any desire to use it.

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