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Stop Planning Now

Is Planning Passe?

Back before I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, there were two magazines that I read on a regular basis: Wired and Forbes ASAP. I would go to my local bookstore (which was named This Ain’t The Rosedale Library, which was typically full of communist manifestos and other fringe opinions, but also a big selection of magazines from all over. They even distributed my ‘zine for a time which I produced in high school, OX – but I digress), and pick those up religiously. I read both from cover to cover, devouring everything new and tech. Living in Toronto, we didn’t really get that much exposure to the absolute latest and greatest, so when these magazines reported on “what’s next,” I eagerly ate them up.

Then one day in 1997, an issue of Forbes ASAP showed up with the following article in it. Resilience Vs. Anticipation. The cover showed a photo of the US from Earth, boldly emblazoned with “How The West Kicked Butt.” Read it cover to cover, and by the end, I said to myself, “Go West, Young Man.” I had to get to California.

What was so powerful about that article? Why did that message send me 2636 miles (4239 kilometers) westward to what some call The Innovation Capital Of The World? (Well, I might be the only one who calls it that.) The TL;DR version:

  • the East anticipates: they know that they will have snow in the winter and heat in the summer, and they plan things out – they anticipate, and careful planning is prized
  • the West never knows when they will have the next devastating earthquake, so planning is worthless. What’s prized is resilience – bouncing back from adversity.

So in the nutshell, this is why the West kicked butt – when it prized resilience over anticipation – it made an implicit choice to embrace change, not fear it.

Life is change. There may be stretches where things seem to be static – and elicit mini-tomes like The Great Stagnation (note that Dr. Cowen is from the east coast, not that there is anything wrong with that), but things are always changing, moving – if not visibly, invisibly, out of sight. Innovation is happening everywhere, all the time.

We are in an era of great change. The last 100-plus years have seen more change in the technology and the culture of the world than the world has seen in the previous thousand. How can you possibly plan or anticipate anything when you can be disrupted in a matter of hours, days, or months by an upstart startup who can eat your lunch? You could have a phenomenal idea, executed just slightly incorrectly, and bam, you are the meerkat to a periscope (both of which are implementations of an idea I came up with back in 2006 – telepresence via wireless streaming multicast)

Ten years ago, no one had a smartphone with the capabilities ours do in their pocket. Now we are cyborgs, lost without our always-on connections. In ten years’ time, who’s to say that we haven’t started to evolve into a new species of human, or spend a lot of our time in virtual reality, only to step out to eat and use the bathroom? With one of these, you won’t even need to drop off the net to exercise.

How do you survive? The same way companies in Silicon Valley have always survived: build your resilience. Not only does it help you to surf the waves of change that are coming at us, but it also helps you innovate. Build your company to embrace change and be stronger for it. Planning plays a much lesser role.

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