Strategic Choices rather than Strategic Planning

In today’s fast-changing world, most long-term plans are useless, but experimenting and adaptive decision-making is everything.

The concept of strategic planning is based on militaristic roots, where data and historical trends were used to predict the future. It took years, even decades, for meaningful shifts to take place, as data sourcing and communication of directives were not easy tasks.

Strategic planning was introduced into the business world after the Second World War and this approach worked well from the fifties to the early nineties. However, upon the rise of high-tech tools and increased globalisation, the world changed quite drastically. The past is no longer a sure predictor of the future, good data is easy to access and communication is rapid. New ideas and movements are launched every day and some of these influence world markets and trends dramatically within days.

Thus, strategic planning five years ahead with a step-by-step route map is no longer a viable strategy. Adaptive planning and strategies are crucial. We all still need an understanding of the landscape in which we operate, navigational tools, and of course a destination, but we also need to grasp that in today’s world, there will be many ways to get there and the “stick to the plan” route is not one of them.

To survive and thrive in the modern complexities of our unpredictable world, our approach should include:

  • prototyping and experimentation with ideas;
  • pattern recognition in relevant and well-captured data;
  • obtaining information from the frontlines and delegation of authority; and
  • decisions based on real-time understanding of what is happening on the ground.

Famed fighter pilot John Boyd saw strategy as a continuous mental loop that ran from observe, to orient  to decide and to act, returning immediately to further observation. This fluid approach makes strategy a self-correcting series of intentional experiments.

To provide structure to this approach, The Monitor Institute suggests we focus on answering a series of four interrelated questions about the organisation’s strategic direction: what vision you want to pursue, how you will make a difference, how you will succeed, and what capabilities it will take to get there.


Taking the approach of adaptive strategies, while including the cascade of strategic choices in this strategy, we should be able to build a resilient nonprofit sector ready to adapt to the variety of curveballs still to come our way.