Is lack of clarity delaying implementation of your big strategic initiative?

Posted by on Feb 13, 2011

Popular mythology asserts that university professors are isolated from the real world and waste money on esoteric and irrelevant research.

But that’s not what I saw in a recent planning session held at UC Davis in January. The session brought together scientists from 4 universities, 2 each from California and Canada. They met to begin planning what they hope will revolutionize the way offices are illuminated everywhere.

They faced a daunting – and common – roadblock in implementation: creating a plan for something no one in the room had ever done before. In their case, achieving their vision will mean spearheading the creation of a whole new industry!

I’ve seen a great many executive teams delay and lose momentum when faced with big challenges of a type that no one in the room has overcome before.  In fact, the “we don’t know where to start” delay is one of the most common causes of implementation delay, loss of confidence, loss of belief, and ultimately loss of commitment to initiatives!

So how did these academics do it?

They innately understood that the best way to plan when you don’t know how to achieve your objective is through an iterative process:

  • Start out with a clear vision of success
  • Identify known barriers to success
  • Plan as far ahead as you can see to get started on action and learning
  • Augment your know-how by bringing more participants and knowledge into your group over time
  • Refresh your plan as experience and new participants broaden your collective understanding.

In this meeting, the group addressed four key questions.

1. What is our vision?

2. What are our objectives and key milestones for the coming year?

3. What are the barriers to success?

4. What key knowledge and participants are we missing?

Over the coming months these scientists will develop a plan, engage other key researchers and business people, and begin directed research to support their plan. The plan will be refreshed and enriched with each successive meeting as they learn and gain experience.

What they knew – perhaps as a result of their deep experience in research – is that when you can’t see the entire path to your vision, don’t stand around waiting for the fog to clear! Start walking! You’ll be able to see further after you round the first corner!

The result they’re aiming for requires nothing less than a revolution in lighting design and the creation of an entirely new green industry. The scientists participating in this project are academics, but they are solidly grounded in the so-called “real world”. Collectively they hold nearly 200 patents, have published more than 400 peer-reviewed journal articles, and have been involved in numerous technology-based companies in their fields.

It was exciting to guide a planning meeting with such an ambitious vision. Imagine mixing the mundane “what, who, when” action planning with coffee break discussions about the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy, event horizons, and the increase in the gravitational force as you fall into a black hole. And now I have an inkling of why no one has been able to connect all the fundamental forces and elementary particles in a unified field theory.

These scientists are a collection of true luminaries. If they achieve their vision, I’m betting we’ll all be seeing things in a different light.

Copyright 2011 Knowlan Consulting Group Inc.