One of the ‘thinking games’ I play with clients during the annual planning process is called “What’s predictable? What’s possible?”
The first time I played the game was at a group strategic offsite in York. Attending were a group of service managers who had a small SAP business they wanted to grow. I opened the workshop by asking, “what’s predictable about an offsite retreat like this?” Comments I recall included:
- We’ll have lots of coffee and sugary snacks all end up ‘wired’.
- We’ll overindulge at dinner and be nursing hangovers tomorrow.
- We’ll spend the evening putting the company, and world, to rights.
- We’ll eat in the hotel, from the hotel menu.
- We’ll focus on ourselves not our clients.
- We’ll plan to grow our business by a maximum of 12% per annum because that’s what the bosses want.
- We’ll end up with a complex action plan, most of which we won’t do because we are too busy.
This predictable behaviour typical leads to myopic thinking and small solutions that yield small results.
So, what’s the alternative? When we move onto the question of “what’s possible for an offsite retreat like this to be?” The atmosphere in the room changes.
- It’s possible we could drink water today and order in fruit and healthy snacks.
- It’s possible we could talk to the hotel chef and organise a special dinner where we share food, a bit like a Chinese meal with a Lazy Susan, only the food would be French Cuisine.
- Instead of drinking in the bar we could go for a walking tour of York – and call in a few pubs too.
- We could look outside the IT industry and see how other sectors handle service management.
- We could set a really ambitious goal (and keep it secret from senior management) – say 10 times growth in three years1.
- We could get really honest about the actions we are committed to. Stop trying to put everything in a plan and focus.
And that, unpredictably, was exactly how the workshop played out. Bigger solutions with the potential of massive results.
As a facilitator the trick here is to be non-judgemental. Accept and appreciate the reality of a group’s expectation for these types of workshop. The idea is to adjust thinking through playful provocations.
It’s a simple provocation: “What’s predictable? What’s possible?”
What would happen if you applied it to the way you’re thinking about sales performance for the year ahead?
What would happen if you asked a client this question about your next project together?
1 As a footnote this team ended up achieving ten times growth in less than three years. Partly because in setting such an ambitious goal they had to think of growth strategies beyond the usual 12% organic growth expected of them.
The bottom line
Get real: Challenge that which is predictable.
Get prepared: Possibility thinking can be scary.
Get savvy: A simple provocation can yield exceptional results.
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