It was February and snowing. The water was an icy 4.6 °C and I was a moment away from getting into the lake with nothing on but a swimming suit.
I had prepared for this. First, I would allow the water to reach my knees. Immediately, my legs went numb. Second, I would emerge my body up to my chest as quickly as possible. Third, I would take a long, deep breath before I let the water reach my shoulders and then level up to my chin. As water covered my chest, panic struck my body.
I began taking short and shallow breaths, but oxygen wouldn’t reach my lungs. My body temperature was dropping at a dramatic rate, setting my entire body into shock. My rehearsed fourth rule, never be still, went through my head as I attempted my breaststroke. Again, my body wouldn’t respond. I had lost control. I couldn’t go back and I wasn’t moving forward.
I was going down!
Burning, sharp waves slammed against my face and my lungs filled with the ice-cold water. Gasping for air, I kept trying to catch my breath, but I just couldn’t.
I desperately tried to retrieve any information in my head about what to do. Being fully conscious, I understood all the scientific nuances of my condition. I had done my research. But still, I had no idea how to deal with the actual situation. My body was uncontrollably and undoubtedly on the verge of drowning and no amount of memorised rules and information would help me.
What took me a good few seconds to figure out was that it wasn’t about the knowledge; it was about adapting to a real situation as it happened. And that is an important lesson for a planner to learn.
Although my research made me aware of what I was doing and what would happen to me, it did not prepare me for the reality of the cold water filling my lungs, what 4.6 °C water actually feels like or the sudden burn of waves. And nothing else apart from getting into that water could have done that.
To breathe in and start swimming required me to adapt; to treat my knowledge as a guide and not an unquestionable set of rules. The same can be said about strategy development.
Research is there to draw insights and develop the outline of a picture, but the colours you paint it are up to you. Insights are there to guide you, not to set things in stone. When it comes to an innovative strategy, it isn’t just about how many books and blogs you read, how many process funnels and charts you follow, or how many focus groups you hold. You can only ever be certain up to a point, say 50 percent, that it will work when drawing upon theory alone. The other 50 percent comes from embracing and adapting your theory to the chaos you’ll operate in – You’re not going to know what it feels like until you unleash your proposition into the market.
In other words, prepare as much as you can in the time given, but don’t overdo it; you can plan for the future, but you cannot predict it. Our industry is about embracing the cold water, so get in and see what happens!
Photo Credit: kern.justin