Thursday, August 03, 2006

strategic thinking for parents

I have enjoyed reading Strategy Bites Back (Henry Mintzberg et. al.) largely because it recognizes that strategy is not something one does but a way that one thinks. Strategy means developing a mental pattern of what you want and what will contribute to getting there, and then continually revising the pattern as new information becomes available. Notice this is quite different than continually changing what you want and also quite different than making a plan.

Imagine making a strategic plan for parenting your first child. The first stretch is that the plan will have to extend far beyond five years: you will be working on this same strategy for at least 25 years, and then revise it for the next 50 or so. You would have to be able to make the plan knowing that the resources, personnel, allies, partners and markets crucial to your success will change from one year to the next in thoroughly unpredictable ways. You would also have to have a process for making a new plan when it turned out your original plan was based on faulty assumptions about both the world and what you are trying to do.

Consider instead, what kind of strategy would be useful to new parents. It is not so hard, really, for parents to look at their newborn and imagine a whole lifetime of memories forming, a whole lifetime of a developing relationship. While a parent might not put words to this imagining, it contains sensory information about milestones and the relationship between parent and child as each of those milestones is reached. Strategic thinking for parents means consistently revisiting this imagining so that it is strong and familiar; flexible and consistent.

And it means doing the reverse: living so attentively in the moment that the parent notices when the present reality represents a really great moment, a really great kind of relationship. Karl Weick talks about "Talking the Walk" in strategy. He means that sometimes we do the right thing and then find ways of articulating and planning it. Every parent knows that sometimes knowing what we do is less urgent than being present and doing what is there to do.

Strategy for parents means having a strong sense of the relationship you want to have with your child over a lifetime, and making daily choices that will support that sense. That sense comes from imagining and from noticing. It supports choice by providing a touchstone against which daily decisions can be tested: does this decision support this kind of relationship or not? At any given moment, it might not mean having the desired relationship, it might mean building a characteristic (like independence or compassion) that will take years to ripen and mature.

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