annual planning when future uncertainties abound

Our daily decisions are driven by what we know about the past and believe to be true about the future. As Richard Slaughter put it, the interplay between someone’s understanding of the past and their "anticipation of the possible futures" are what drive their decisions today. What if what we believe to be true about today and tomorrow aren’t accurate though?

In his book, Futuring, Edward Cornish challenged the notion of a leader's "present reality" by highlighting the reality that because of the increased rate change to available information "we all live psychologically in the world of the past." That reality, coupled with each of us living (read "limited by") in our own spheres of interest, Cornish suggested that most of what we "know" about the world is actually outdated. His remedy to living psychologically in the present? Becoming comfortable and familiar with the trends that are shaping our external environments.

Here's where leaders in the Church can benefit the most when it comes to "annual planning."  We're all familiar with traditional strategic planning methods. However, the reality is that these strategic planning methods were designed in, and for, the 20th century Industrial Age. But we now live in the Age of Technology. When organizations rely solely on traditional strategic planning, their baseline assumption, as Thomas Chermack put it, is "a surprise-free, status quo, growth-as-usual" future. Why? Because the rate of change during the Industrial Age was more constant, much slower, and there was a high degree of confidence about the external environment and the future. Projecting last year’s projects into the future worked, and worked the 20th century. Today though? Well, the rate of change in the external environment is exponentially faster and uncertainty about the future has skyrocketed. Traditional strategic planning methods completely leave out the reality of today's uncertainty. So what now?

As leaders, we need to make “informed” decisions in our day-to-day operations using what we know about the past and foresee about the future. But what if the information we have about the future is outdated and plain wrong (which it likely is)? The consequences of doing nothing mean we are out of step day-to-day and our strategic planning could be sending us to certain death. If we remember anything about Church history, it's that this is a recurring theme throughout history: revival, church growth, and then eventually the death of the local church. Yes, there are spiritual forces that play into this, but let's admit the role of human error as well.

Here’s where strategic foresight, and being aware of external trends, can help us as leaders maximize opportunities, minimize risks, and actually create our envisioned future (heaven come to earth) regardless of what is happening in the external environment! When we couple traditional strategic planning methods with strategic foresight this enables us to challenge our assumptions about the future, anticipate the future with a high degree of accuracy and decrease surprises (which, let's face it, usually aren’t in our favor). We don’t need to throw traditional strategic planning out, but we do need to tweak it if we want our local churches to exist 10 years from now. Not planning for uncertainty will certainly be to our demise. Get to know strategic foresight, it might just become your new best friend.