Saturday, May 9, 2009

When Planning Won't Work

We've all read and heard about the importance of planning as a tool to harness focus and energy. We plan in our work lives and we plan in our private lives.  For some of us, the structure of a plan -- knowing the next steps and the next steps after that -- is comforting.  

Shortly after 9/11, I  had the opportunity to facilitate a number of discussions among arts organizations about the impact of that tragedy on their work.  Almost all of them were experiencing greater numbers of visitors to performances, gallery shows and exhibitions.  Many were overwhelmed with this new interest...this desire to replace fear with the transformative beauty of art and culture.

Those organizations that had rediscovered their footing said they did so because, just prior to 9/11, they had been engaged in planning.  They had been weighing various scenarios of their growth and development.  They developed responses that were helping them cope with audience demand and reconfigured funding.

Fast-forward to today:  one of those arts organizations has come full circle.  It is financially fragile, without staff, and barely hanging on.  A very small group of board members (and one in particular) hopes to breathe live back into what had once been a lively, but never really secure, haven for artists.  "We need to regain our equilibrium before I burn out," says the burned out board leader, "We need a plan."  Sounds good, except for one telling thing:  it seems as though this person may be the only board member ready/willing to invest in planning.  So far, two planning meetings have been cancelled, and it's unclear if a plan will ever be created.

Something important is at work here.  First, planning for the future -- even the short-term -- is very difficult (if not impossible) if an organization is preoccupied with survival.  Planning for a better future just doesn't make sense when you don't think the organization has much of one. It's really important to first put out or tamp down the fires that threaten to engulf an organization.  Only when that is accomplished can folks take a deep breath and start to see past the present.

So, this organization has some decisions to make right away, but planning isn't one of them.

Photo:  confusion by Nanayof2

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