Nice post, I think this is a very good topic and I think that I agree with pretty much everything that you have said, but I also think there is a bit more to the story. As you are painfully aware, I like to be the “there is always more to the story” guy.
A few things that come to mind for me on this issue:
1.) We need higher level communication and deliberation skills.
I think that for the most part we are not very good at convening, communicating, and decision-making in a way that leads to plans and commitments that are real and connected to the work that we do. I think it is not at all uncommon for a “leadership team” to spend time and money on a retreat and a facilitator to develop plans and commitments, which then get printed (in color and on nice paper), and then get slammed into a three-ring binder, which then gets stacked on top of the book shelf in the corner of our office where it promptly gets forgotten about. I think there are a lot of organizations and a lot of leaders that this applies to.
True story: I got contacted by an organization about 3 months ago to work on a 3-4 month project of guiding them through a strategic planning process and culture building process. My contact was the Executive Director, who had been in place about 6 mos. before contacting me. In between our 3rd and 4th planning conversation she discovered that there was a comprehensive strategic plan already in place. Something is horribly wrong with a strategic plan when nobody knows / remembers that it exists.
I think that this has a lot to do with the fact that we have become very dishonest with our language and conversations in the workplace to the extent that the plans, documents, and language that we produce often means nothing. Spinning, and messaging and bullshitting has become such an exact science that it has removed all meaning and value and reality and humanity from what is said.
So, we end up with people and organizations that a) have plans and goals that are being ignored and / or b) that are resistant to making plans because they have gone through that process repeatedly and the outcome has never been of any real value.
2.) Sometimes plans can be over-rated.
A long, long time ago in a far away galaxy, I was an infantry squad leader in the Marine Corps. We spent a lot of time learning how to make plans, communicate plans, and implement plans. But we spent even more time learning how to “improvise, adapt and overcome”, because plans rarely survive contact with reality. Things change. Situations change. People change, priorities change and if an organization is going to be good at developing and following good, solid actionable plans, it also has to be good at supporting its people in understanding what is changing and adapting to those changes. Rigid adherence to a suddenly flawed plan is a good recipe for tragic outcomes. For organizations that are very serious about planning and goal setting, I think it can be easy to place too much faith in a static plan and in goals based on what was true yesterday.
This is becoming increasingly dangerous for business now as we live in a time of great change and change is happening more and more rapidly.
3.) We are wired differently.
One last thing that comes to mind for me is that we are truly wired differently and we function differently. Some of us are all about structure and detail and linear process. Some of us are much more intuitive in nature. I do not think that one is necessarily better or worse than the other, I believe that they both have pros and cons, and I believe we can all benefit from some of both.
I am much less structured than you. I have had my own business for two years now and I do not have a business plan. You would probably not do much of anything without having a business plan in place. Formal plans feel restrictive to me. I am probably not ever going to have a business plan, and I am quite comfortable with that. I am everyday doing work that I love, and my work continues to move in the right direction with more clients and bigger opportunities. I am not saying that organizations or people should not have objectives and plans, but I am saying that they can take a lot of different forms. I operate my business without a formal business plan, but that does not necessarily mean that I am without direction.
For what it is worth. Have a good weekend.