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Strategic, Outside-in Thinking in Place of Strategic Planning

Conventional strategic planning is no longer helpful for unpredictable consumer behavior and constantly shifting environments. Instead of spending time and effort in vain attempts to “predict” the future, new approaches, such as Design Thinking, Lean Start-Up and other entrepreneurial methodologies, structure processes for “learning by doing.”


Instead of waiting for the “perfect” plan before you launch, you start by testing an imperfect concept in the market and adapting it through customer feedback and collaborative testing.


The point is not to try to avoid all risks at all cost but to set up learning and testing mechanisms. This requires agile, innovative, adaptable thinking that thrives in “flux” and achieves outcomes by constantly learning and recalibrating in motion.
Here are some alternative examples from membership organizations you might try:
Learn by Doing and Testing Rather than Planning
The Veterinary Information Network (VIN), a successful virtual network for veterinarians didn’t create a detailed business plan for its current, unique model that attracts 44,000 enthusiastic members. They started with a single message board and grew through applying and adapting lessons learned.
Create demonstration communities: Test and Develop New Products with a Customer Group.
The American Academy of Family Physicians launched TransforMED as a wholly owned subsidiary to lead and catalyze transformations in family medicine and primary care. TransforMED would learn by doing rather than retreating into a room to design the perfect plan on paper. To this end, in June 2006, TransforMED launched an innovative 24-month National Demonstration Project (NDP) to pilot test the new model in 36 family medicine practices across the United States.

Embed Strategic, Demand-Centered Thinking in Daily Routines

Make in-depth interviews with members, opportunities for interaction with them and participant observation part of routine responsibilities for staff and volunteer leaders


Create frequent opportunities for employees from all levels to discuss and apply lessons learned and insights gained from the “outside-in”

Use inexpensive tools, such as prototype building and small-scale tests, to allow your organization to learn by doing and innovate without fear. 


Make it easy to quickly assemble a cross-functional team to explore if and how a new insight they glean directly from may translate into a product.


Make members/customers central to daily conversations: Why not start with three weekly activities inspired by VIN’s weekly and daily routines outlined below?

–Weekly “make them happy” meetings for all staff. Compare notes about what they heard from members, bring up member concerns and their implications, explore solutions and improvements.


–Daily, abbreviated member-focused meetings in individual departments. Start the day with a reminder of members’ needs and concerns and any implications for the tasks and discussions of the day.


–Weekly “Click Throughs.” VIN (The Veterinary Information Network) assembles the appropriate team to click through areas of their website from a member’s perspective, catching glitches and uncovering new opportunities to innovate. Apply this approach to experience a product, new initiative, or program through the eyes of a member, using role playing or detailed profiles of individual members as needed.


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