How to Begin Quantum Planning

Quality planning requires disciplined thinking about three or four time periods simultaneously and about the many possible connections between them. The past, the present, the immediate future and at least the intermediate future all have direct impact on planning. To do this well, we have to become adept at quantum thinking: quantum theory applied to planning.

Quantum theory studies the movement of atomic particles. Particles travel in waves from point A to point B along a number of potential paths. Each path has a certain probability of occurring. Summing over all the probabilities predicts the particle path with useful accuracy. Useful planning does the same for people and organizations.

Individuals and organizations have an array of known and unknown factors influencing their pasts, their present and their futures. Worthwhile planning must estimate the probability amplitudes of all pertinent paths and interactions among these factors and use this information to identify actions advantageous in achieving the preferred path.

Begin with good independent analysis to identify the constants and constraints that have shaped behavior to date. For individuals this would include compilation of at least two kinds of background knowledge: demographic details like age, gender, education, certifications, location. Also critical is knowledge of pervasive personality traits like introversion/ extroversion, energy levels, attention/ avoidance of detail and a range of other behavior patterns likely to persist regardless of situation. Organizations also have pertinent demographic and personality variables that shape their functioning. These would include the number and type of competitors, size of marketplace, market segment and focus, brand expectations, governance, leadership and management structures, function and aspiration among others.

Time and effort should be taken to test understandings reached about these background constraints and constants. Confirmation of likely future effects of these givens will be found in careful examination of their effect in the past. For both individuals and organizations examination of results from their actual history facing challenges and changes provides a laboratory to test hypotheses generated from this analysis of current constants and constraints. For example, what happened the last time a significant technological change occurred affecting core work or work space? Did the individual or organization anticipate and capitalize on the opportunity or did they react after the fact and play catch up in the marketplace? How was that decision made? How executed? What internal and external conditions were in place to allow for success or failure? How were these conditions perceived, assessed and acted on or not?

These known and perceived facts of the individual's or organization's past should be enriched with details from the written, spoken or presented records such as annual reports, branding materials, organizational and personal appraisals, previous strategic plans and retreat documents. The result should be a colorful image of the present textured by the past that should be immediately recognizable by those involved.

This deep understanding of the individual or individual organization can then be used to foreshadow the immediate future. More usefully, this same knowledge base can be applied to break out of the mental trap of linearity (projecting the present into the future). This intimate knowledge of individuals and organizations can help them develop the confidence to sketch out plausible sets and sequences of unknowns than will influence their futures. Then comes the hard part: having the guts to stare into these possible futures with enough discipline to see the constraints and enough imagination to see the possibilities. Bold action, even innovation to secure preferred future possibilities becomes obvious.

In this practice, linear extrapolation is deadly, and an unhealthy obsession with current understandings can be blinding.

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