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Strategy is Not Planning, New Thinking for Destinations

Issue # 16 (955 Words/4 Minutes)

Strategy is Not Planning

“The real heart of strategy is in the mind of the strategist.”

Max McKeown

I first came upon the concept of strategic planning as a graduate business student. I had taken a class in strategic planning, which was new and all the rage at the time. It looked good in the textbook, and there were already planning models and tools that had emerged from consulting firms like Bain and McKinsey. But my professor, one of the best I ever had, was not convinced. He had a rare background as a Green Beret with degrees from Harvard and the London School of Economics. My professor was doubtful about strategic planning, to say the least; he always reminded me that plans rarely work out; I think he knew that from his days as a Green Beret in Vietnam.

His words always stuck with me. More importantly, his lessons took me on a 30-year journey to study and understand strategy. During that time and many consulting engagements later, I learned that strategy and strategic planning were different and not even close, though the names may lead one to believe they are.

Over the years, I have read many books and sat through many lectures and discussions with colleagues on the topic of strategy. I have been deeply influenced by several strategy writers that have shaped my understanding of the difference between strategy and how it differs from planning. I have also seen many tourism strategic plans, launched with high hopes, wind up on a shelf or fail to deliver the intended results. I have come to believe that many DMO executives and consultants, for that matter, may miss the crucial, nuanced difference between strategy and planning.

I recently came upon a Harvard Business Review Video in which University of Toronto Professor Roger Martin articulates the differences between the two concepts.

Strategic planning is characterized by tasks and activities the organization says it's going to do. You know the process. Define the goal, implement the action steps, and measure the results. For example: develop a new website, start a new sales program, develop a new ad campaign, or implement a new research program.