from R&D Innovator Volume 2, Number 4
George L. Morrisey
Morrisey is a management consultant with the The Morrisey Group,
Merritt Island, Florida. He
is author of several books including Creating Your Future: Personal Strategic Planning for Professionals
(Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, 1992), from which this
article is adapted.
scientists and technologists don't like the notion of planning for
their personal future. I
can appreciate that they don't feel they have the time, or they
think everything is changing too fast to warrant the effort.
Some people are so successful right now that there's
"no need to plan;" others are in crisis and can't take
the time to think long-term.
of these arguments has some merit, but when you look at the
benefits of establishing a personal strategic plan, you might
change your mind. Strategic
planning is a long-range effort to determine where you are going.
Do you see yourself moving into non-technical areas in the
company? Do you want
to remain in your organization until retirement?
Do you hope someday to be an independent consultant?
that planning is a process—and good plans are a means to an end,
never an end in themselves. If
you can keep your focus on where the plan is leading, you will
find this approach opening up vistas of development and increasing
your present and future satisfaction in life.
the Benefits Are…
exactly, can planning do for you?
It can offer you a
personal vision for the future, guide your career, enable you to
grasp opportunities, build a balanced life, involve others in your
decisions, and help you prepare for retirement. Let's
discuss these topics in order.
personal vision of the future is really what personal planning is
all about. It's too easy to get wrapped up in the present and lose sight
of what the future should be like.
If we intend to grow in any important part of our lives, we
must sometimes focus on how we want our future to look.
on where you are in your career and your life, you may need to
look as little as two years into the future, or as many as 30.
The ironic thing about focusing on the future is that what
you project is unlikely
to happen. Your
circumstances, opportunities, threats, and preferences may take
you in an entirely different direction.
But this does not make the planning process any less vital:
A focus on the future helps us determine when we'll need to
in a fast-changing world, planning helps guide a career,
particularly in the early stages.
Curiously, only a small fraction of professionals end up in
the career for which they initially prepared.
Yet as our interests, opportunities, and family obligations
all affect our direction, a continual focus on the future gives us
a better chance of identifying roadblocks that could interfere
with getting to our destination.
Planning helps us select among options:
"What-if" games show new vistas that might
otherwise never occur to us. For
example, what if the company decides to stop research in your
field? Planning will not prevent every stumble along the way, but it
will increase the likelihood that we'll respond to events more
also helps build a balanced life—it can prevent tunnel vision.
Even if a narrow focus on the requirements of work is
occasionally justified, there's more to life than just getting
ahead in your career. What
if you are offered a great job, but your spouse doesn't want to
live in that area? A
balanced life includes family, friends, health, and personal
fulfillment. It also
includes spiritual development, financial security, and service to
others. I don't think
attending to these "non-career" issues detracts from a
professional focus. On
the contrary, our lives need a holistic balance for us
to function optimally.
we achieve a true synergy, then we can be even more productive on
the job—and off.
Plan Is an Island
also enables us to involve others in our decisions.
Life partners, siblings, parents and children, colleagues,
employers and friends all have a stake in our success and most
have a genuine concern about our future well-being.
Since many of our accomplishments depend to some extent on
the efforts of these other people, it's more sensible and
productive to get them involved early in the process, when they
can add to the rationality and effectiveness of our plans.
For example, let management know the kind of position you
are aiming for.
planning prepares us for retirement.
Many scientists resist the notion of total
retirement—preferring to continue working in some fashion as
long as their faculties permit.
Even though their efforts may change intensity and focus,
they still want to retain the challenge they get from work.
For these people, as well as for those who look forward to
leaving research entirely, the best way to get where you want to
go is to plan to get there, rather than to trust fate.
planning offers so many tangible benefits, why do many
professionals resist it? Some
are more comfortable with acting, rather than "idle
thinking," and therefore don't want to devote so much time to
it, or they think their circumstances are so likely to change that
planning is futile. Other
people complain that things are going so well (or so badly) that
there's no point in planning.
Finally, some people don't make strategic plans because
they can't recognize the difference between strategic and
short-term, operational planning—how to get where you've already
decided to go.
do change, and it's
certainly legitimate to wonder about the value of planning when
things are changing so rapidly.
But the plans we are talking about are not set in concrete.
They are adaptable frameworks, goals, that can conform to
changing circumstances. There's
nothing wrong with changing direction, if we know what we're doing
and understand our own reasoning.
A plan gives us a foundation from which we can make
appropriate digressions as needed.
plan if things are going fine?
Won't they continue like this?
Won't the skills we now use always be in demand?
Probably not—especially in science and technology.
Being prepared for new situations is a cardinal reason for
having a strategic plan in the first place.
Even if we cannot anticipate everything that will affect
our path, we have a better chance of dealing with it effectively
if we've thought ahead.
are going terribly, and I can't bother planning because survival
is the name of the game right now.
Good reasoning. If
it seems that it's going to be a close call just to reach that
contracted goal, don't worry about initiating a new overall
strategy. But most of
us often think things are worse than they truly are.
If you are continually moving from one crisis to another,
you may need to take some time off to understand why.
Are you really heading where you want to go? Is your personal style suited to your circumstances?
What changes in direction could prevent some of these
crises in the first place?
spend some time thinking about your future, outline your plans,
and discuss them with people close to you.
Strategic planning takes work, but it pays off.
It's an exciting way to create
the future rather than just coast into it.