Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wall Planners & Financial Year Diaries!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, dear Reader, but it's time to start planning! Whether just for yourself, your family, your workmates, your accountant, or for whomever, a plan has always made a big difference and remains more relevant than ever. A brief look back at some lessons and examples of planning has shown me that most of what I've ever been exposed to on the theme of Planning is kind of inadequate.
Let's start at the start. As with most life lessons containing a moral, planning has been addressed in the canon of Aesop's fables. The Ant & The Grasshopper is worthy of most primary school classrooms but strikes me as completely deficient in 21st century relevance. There is an ascetic Ant who spends all his Summer days storing food, even though it's really hot and unpleasant to haul grain from A to B all day long, while a self-indulgent Grasshopper takes it easy, enjoys the shade and lives high on the hog for half the year. Inevitably, of course, Winter rolls round and the Grasshopper ends up more or less starving while the Ant and his brethren enjoy the spoils of their summer toils.
I need to check myself here. Aesop wrote this circa 600BC when work was probably about as simple as storing grain, so I'm sure it would have been a box office smash in Ancient Greece. But nowadays, it just doesn't apply. This is not the fine juggling act of options, decisions, people and tasks that we now call planning, it's more like a single choice played out day after day.
So if Aesop fails us, to where do we turn? If you're like me, when you're in a bind you will Do What Cook Would Do! Captain James Cook, of course. History's greatest Navigator and Discoverer, whose ambition took him 'not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.'
Cook was the last Hero of the Age of Discovery. Indeed, his efforts brought that era to a close, along with the rise of the industrial revolution. As brave as Cook was, ever stoical in the face of disaster, and as smart and ahead of his time as he was, he wasn't really a planner extraordinaire. In fact, the best back up he had when losing track of his second ship was to write a message in a bottle, bury it under a tree and carve into the trunk 'Dig Here' before sailing on. This isn't James's fault, of course...what else could he do?
Cook does provide one lesson about planning that applies to us today. He is often lauded as a great polymath because his journals reveal all kinds of insights on botany, geography, ethnography, people management, resource management, political science and philosophy. Cook was none of this and even if he was, nobody in their right mind would take this approach these days. Dilettante now has a negative connotation because the amount of knowledge required in any one role these days is so overwhelmingly large that if you try to cover 3 or 4 bases you'll inevitably be found wanting in all of them. We are in an age of specialisation that requires many people coming together across many facets of a task and each doing a relatively small part expertly. Quality over quantity indeed!
So here we stand. Aesop has let us down simply because he dealt with a time that was far too simple and completely lacked the complexity we now confront every day. Cook even lets us down because, well, it was the Age of Discovery and there was a complete lack of information on which to base a plan and technology with which to implement it. Neither of these conditions exist nowadays, so how do we plan many people coming together across broad and multiple projects with expertise rather than plain old amateur enthusiasm?
I find the answer in a science fiction novel (here's hoping the boss doesn't read how we do things...) by Theodore Sturgeon from 1953 - More Than Human. The novel runs in Sturgeon's methodical, pseudo-macabre style and presents the idea of Homo Gestalt. Six extraordinary people with really strange, unique traits and abilities blend together to act as one organism, becoming this great gestalt consciousness. Sturgeon presents this as the next stage of human evolution but I see it as the ideal way to plan tasks in the 21st century!
Now we're not yet up to literally blending multiple minds into one but with work these days, we have so many specialised tasks each contributing to such a large, overwhelming edifice that it would kind of be ideal! Failing Homo Gestalt, we can actually kind of get close with planning, right? Sturgeon's creation develops ridiculous powers and abilities because all minds are as one and all talents can be directed via the one me, Homo Gestalt is little more than a well maintained Wall Planner!
As there are many facets to any task there are many facets to any plan. Individuals need to diarise tasks and run their own schedules but without that central gestalt consciousness, you'll end up with 5 one fifths of Captain James Cook rather than 5 experts. The difference is the well planned broader scheme, the context for work and effort, the common grey matter that those efforts are channeled through. If we think of consciousness as nothing more than the state of being aware, then Wall Planners, Team Planners and big, obvious, readily available business plans become your gestalt consciousness - a single conductor that waves its baton for your orchestra of specialists!
So do it now! Get planning! You can grab your 18 Month Moleskine Diary now and you will enjoy a Winter in Ancient Greece flush with grain. Or you can grab your Financial Year Diary for yourself and or a wall planner for your team, leave Ancient Greece behind, forget about getting lost in the pacific and touch the next stage of human evolution, vis-a-vis the 9 to 5.