Want to Drive Change? Spend Less Time Planning and More Time Doing.

Not long ago, I picked up Rework — a book about leadership in complex, knowledge-driven workplaces written by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier-Hansson, the founders of the remarkably successful web-development company 37signals.  It’s an incredibly approachable and incredibly quick read that is definitely worth your time.

What I love the most about Rework is Fried and Heinemeier-Hansson’s argument that planning isn’t half as important as action when it comes to driving organizational change.  “Plans let the past drive the future,” they write.  “They put blinders on you.  ‘This is where we’re going because, well, that’s where we said we were going.’ And that’s the problem.  Plans are inconsistent with improvisation” (Kindle Location 195).

Success at 37signals wasn’t the result of months of late-night, coffee-fueled strategy sessions held long before the company came to life.  Success also wasn’t achieved on corporate retreats where senior managers came together in exotic locations to collectively imagine the perfect corporate future.  To Fried and Heinemeier-Hansson, success CAN’T be predefined — spelled out on neatly printed pages and handed out to employees to implement with fidelity and precision.

Instead, success is the result of an organization’s commitment to responding to current realities — even if those realities are unexpected curveballs.  Refusing to invest tons of time, energy and effort into long-range planning actually makes it easier to change direction, and changing direction is inevitable in poorly-defined marketplaces.  Traditional companies with complex strategies developed over long periods of time find it harder to reinvent themselves when it is necessary simply because they have WAY more to lose by walking away from the ideas providing direction to the organization, no matter how bad those ideas are.

What does that mean for schools and their leaders?  

Most importantly, it means that you’ve got to spend less time planning and more time doing.  While detailed plans might sound REALLY good in theory, they can quickly become organizational handcuffs.  “Working without a plan may seem scary,” write Fried and Heinemeier-Hansson, “But blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is even scarier” (Kindle Location 195).

#simpletruth

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Related Radical Reads:

Want to Drive Change?  Then Lose the Bedazzler

Constantly Fighting the Good Idea Fairy

Hitting Home Runs 50 Feet at a Time

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  • BillIvey

    Principles vs. Plans

    I love your piece. It reminds me of a line in “The Headmaster’s Papers” by Richard Hawley to the effect that it’s not that great schools don’t have problems or even crises, it’s that they define themselves as great through their responses to those inevitable blips, problems, crises, whatever. I think that nimble responsiveness is related to what you’re talking about, though I don’t think you’re just talking about dealing with the unexpected.

    John Greeve, the headmaster in Mr. Hawley’s book, also argued in favor of clear, solid principles that help guide schools through not only the quotidian but also the unexpected. I view that as different from complex, ossified strategies that take so long to work out that either they are either obsolete by the time they’re finalized or they constrain an organization, as you noticed, to stick to a plan no matter what the reality has become. For example, my school is unflinchingly dedicated to feminist principles and a multicultural perspective, and I don’t see this changing (nor do I want it to). But we have abandoned, forever, the concept of a “Five-year technology plan” after eventually noticing that we were always completely redoing them after two years or even one. So, as we re-evaluate the role of computer science in our overall curriculum, empowering women in a market where coding skills are increasingly important and where women are under-represented seems to fit our mission well.

    So I guess I would say long-range planning is overrated, and that bedrock principles, carefully chosen, can help guide us to appropriate action in responding to ever-changing realities.

    • billferriter

      Bill wrote:

      Bill wrote:

       

      So I guess I would say long-range planning is overrated, and that bedrock principles, carefully chosen, can help guide us to appropriate action in responding to ever-changing realities.

       

      —————————

      This is brilliantly stated, Bill — and 100% correct.  Core principles — guiding beliefs that help to define the choices that we make — are always important, but those core principles are definitely different from the kinds of static, long-range planning documents that we always love to force schools to complete!

      Hope you are well, by the way.  Wishing you the Merriest of Christmases.

      Bill

       

      • BillIvey

        Thanks, Bill!

        Doing well here – and hope you are too! And a very Merry Christmas to you and your family too!

  • Scott McLeod

    Poke the Box

    If you haven’t read Seth Godin’s Poke the Box, you should. Right along these lines, said in that awesome Seth Godin way…  🙂

    • billferriter

      Thanks for the lead, Scott.

      Thanks for the lead, Scott.  I love Godin.  His writing is so approachable and direct that I feel a big “duh” every time I read something there that makes complete sense but that I’d never considered!

      Hope you’re well, BTW — and hope you have a Merry Christmas!

      Bill

  • JasonParker

    I do love Basecamp… and innovation!

    Think you hit on two very important concepts – action and improvisation. I believe it was/is Facebook whose development team motto is “done is better than perfect.” Get your teams moving, acting, implementing.

    In my life, I often talk about the importance of momentum. Taking that first action is sometimes very difficult – but taking the second action is never as difficult.

    Thanks, Bill!

    • billferriter

      Jason wrote:

      Jason wrote:

       “done is better than perfect.” Get your teams moving, acting, implementing.

      ————————

      The crazy part, Jason, is that this concept is incredibly obvious and yet almost always ignored in schools!  We plan WAY more and for WAY longer than we need to — and we show a stubborn refusal to alter anything in our plans almost all the time.  It’s maddening. 

      A part of me wonders if that’s because we get burned so often in the press that we are leery of making a move that might come across as bad.

      Hope you’re well, 

      Bill

      • JasonParker

        Could be, or…

        perhaps it’s just that the environments for tech startups and for schools, districts and state education offices are radically different. Or, different in how innovation occurs. There’s certainly a lot more going on in a classroom or a district than there is going on in a tech startup (my opinion), and a lot more external factors to consider.

        Surely there are parallels, however, or in the very least, lessons that could be learned / implemented.

  • Greg

    Guiding Principles

    The one guiding principle should always be…… What is the best interests of the students?