Knowing & Doing Aren’t the Same

For the last two decades I’ve worked around the country with companies, organizations and communities, seeing all forms of strategic planning in many phases of its development and implementation.  I’ve also seen strategic plans get more and more complex and take longer and longer to create.

The length and complexity of these plans stems from a desire to want more information to guide strategic decisions as well as to want to analyze information better and more thoroughly than your competition (a subjective assumption).

Yet as more information is available and analyzed, far too many of these strategic plans appear (and are) lifeless, impractical and wasted.  But why?

Knowing & Doing Aren’t the Same

As a dad of three I’m often reminding my kids to do things, which means I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I know” to which I’ve quipped “Knowing and doing are two different things.”

Before I even finish there is a part of me that winces at having said such a ‘dad-like-thing’ but the truth is my response is less a reflection of being a dad and more a reflection of being a consultant in today’s world.  Like my kids, most people fundamentally know what to do, but they are often distracted from taking action either by the immediacy of something else that’s grabbed their attention or they are waiting for more information.

Albert Einstein is attributed to having said, “Information is not knowledge.”

And this problem is only getting worse as the daily bombardment of information through every device and from every screen raises our expectation that a little more information won’t hurt and will actually make it easier to take action.  It’s an assumption that the next piece of information may be so much better than what we have, we must wait.

Thus this access to so much information that is so frequently refreshing (updating, revising) is now treated as a source of knowledge, creating an illusion that with knowledge of the next piece of information we can somehow take more decisive and successful action.

Knowledge is More than Information

Unfortunately knowledge is more than mere abundance and availability of information.  Knowledge involves experience (good and bad), ranking (how we measure and weigh information), instincts/intuition, imagination and other processes that are functions of taking action (a/k/a doing).  Thus, the result of seeking more and more information because it is (or may be) available too often leads to the same problem of inaction that plagues my kids – distraction and postponement.

This is not to say that data and information can’t be valuable to a decision, but the expectation that more data and information will always lead to an even better decision has a limit.

3 Tips for Action

Here are three tips to encourage action:

  1. Do limit the analysis of data and information to that which is most relevant to your goals and objectives.  Don’t rely on data that is too historic or unverifiable.
  2. Create a plan that guides your strategic decisions and actions for the next 3-5 years.  Don’t create a plan for purposes of creating a plan.
  3. Assume that your plan will need to be adjusted as new information is available or markets change.  Don’t fall into the trap of creating an entirely new plan every time something changes.

 

Founder’s Focus: Oh, That’s What This Is?

Growing the business one bass at a time.

Advice, particularly for business owners and entrepreneurs is everywhere . . . as I scroll through LinkedIn, advice is coming from the influencers I follow and my connections; it graces the covers of books in the airport bookstore; and I even get daily text messages and emails.

Advice is good, but I’m not always sure what to do with it.

That’s how I’ve come to believe that advice and action may be relatively near each other in the dictionary, but they are separated by interpretation (Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as a particular adaption or version).

Too often the advice is missing “the how” behind my using (or not using) it in my daily practice?  In other words, the advice fails to answer a key question that can be asked a couple different ways:  How do I adapt it to work for me?  What’s the version of this I can use?

Let’s talk about a specific example I’m familiar with.  One thing that shows up in pieces of advice like “7 things successful entrepreneurs do. . .” is the notion of a quiet time or a “pause” for entrepreneurs.  Sometimes it’s referred to as meditation, but it also can be called recovery, reflection, centering, getting present, or even mindfulness (a new buzz word).

Regardless of what it’s called, the advice is the same: entrepreneurs are supposed to take “time” to be successful because that’s when the great things can be allowed to manifest.

I’m the first to admit I can be a skeptic of things like yoga, meditation, etc.  And anytime I’m faced with the notion of a pause, unfortunately all I can envision is meditation.  Thinking of me sitting crisscross applesauce on the floor of a quiet in a room by myself with no interruptions and distractions is a bit scary.  Because I’ve got three active kids, a brutal travel schedule, an internal clock no longer attached to a time zone, very few precious minutes of downtime, and some body image issues.  And since I’m getting real honest here, I’m going to even admit that I bought a book about 10 years ago called “8 Minute Meditation” and I never gave it 3 minutes of my time.

Because ‘meditation’ seems impossible and it appears that all the successful entrepreneurs are doing it, I can’t help but feel the fear of missing out (FOMO), question my motivation, and ponder whether my reluctance is holding my business back.

So how am I still here after all these years?  I finally found the answer. . . and it wasn’t what I thought it was.

I found out that I’ve been doing what other successful entrepreneurs do, but I didn’t know I was doing it.  I actually do pause to meditate, reflect, refresh, etc.

And it came to me in a total “Oh, That’s what this is?” moment.

Here’s how I figured it out.

I was sitting on a plane and listening to one of my favorite podcasts (Gary Vee) and out of nowhere it came to me that in coming through recent struggles with growing my business, I’d been fishing.  Not fishing for business, but literally casting a line fishing.

Nearly every free night and weekend day for a month my youngest and I were on the lake and I was staying far longer than normal (and not at my son’s urging).

A catch of the day. . . not long before I caught the catch of my life.

This was immediately followed by reminiscing about when I decided to start my business back in 3rd quarter of 2007 after a week on a river fishing for pink salmon . . . and when my now wife gave me the ultimatum – commit or quit – which led to two weeks on a river from which I returned with a grand (and successful!) plan.  You get the point.

I had finally discovered that when I’m out there (lake, river, pond, ocean, etc.), it’s quiet.  Not just quiet on the water, but actually quiet (relatively) in my head.

Fishing isn’t just some hobby I can list in my profile, nor an activity I do with my kids because my dad did it with me.

Fishing is “that” time for me.

So the good news is I’ve been meditating, pausing, reflection, etc. all along.  I just failed to interpret what I was doing as being my version of what other successful entrepreneurs are doing.

Note: this blog is the second in a series of blogs I’m writing on various topics that aren’t related to our company’s core services, but definitely relate to how we cope with the same challenges that our clients and colleagues often face as small businesses and entrepreneurs.

You Should Know the Economic Impact

How often have you. . .

  • Heard a company press on a city or county to make a decision based on their economic impact locally, but without any data?
  • Considered incentives for an economic development deal without knowing more than the number of jobs and total investment as given by the company?
  • Lacked specific information on the projects your economic development group helped support?
  • Had a developer tout the economic benefits of their proposed speculative building, but not have data to back it up?

In every case, it is important to have this data:

  • To help prioritize how to invest your resources
  • To ensure incentives are based on a ROI to your community
  • To prove the effectiveness of your EDO

Our firm helps our clients (cities, EDOs, companies) with the analysis of the economic impact.  Relying on RIMS II multiplier data from the BEA, we can help you analyze and determine the direct, indirect and induced impacts of a project (or projects) on jobs, economic output and wages.

Contact us and let us help you determine the impacts of your next project.

 

Rhodora Annexation Approved

Lake Stevens, WA.  On Tuesday night the City Council unanimously approved Ordinance 1041 to annex approximately 100 acres into the city – an action our firm initiated and supported on behalf of landowners in the annexation area.

One of the direct mailers.

One of the door hangers used.

About Our Role
Our firm was retained by our client in September of 2017 to complete an analysis recommending if an annexation could be successful and by what method.  After studying parcel data (acreage, valuation) and voter registration data in the area, we concluded that the best approach was the Direct Petition Method.  Further, we used our research to identify an annexation area meeting the location and boundary criteria in state law.

We were subsequently retained to secure signatures for the required 10% and 60% petitions (based on % of valuation in the annexation area).  To complete this task, we developed a communications strategy to provide answers to the most common questions about annexation.  We utilized a combination of direct mail, door hangers and door belling (see examples to the left).

We successfully gathered the 10% and 60% petitions, negotiated applicable zoning and indebtedness, completed the required State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist, and prepared exhibits and narratives to be included in the official “Notice of Intent” to annex filed with the Washington State Boundary Review Board for Snohomish County (BRB).

The annexation was challenged by a group of residents.  However, the annexation was unanimously approved by the BRB and an appeal of the BRB’s decision was dismissed by Snohomish County Superior Court.

For more information on the annexation, see visit our project page.

Got a project you think we can help with?  Contact us!

Understanding How City Plans Fail

In my experience a City’s successful implementation of a plan depends greatly upon a their reaction to and investment in the actual elements of the plan.  For successful implementation to occur, a city must be mindful of the tendency for its performance to ‘default’ to status quo (generalization and avoidance), substitution (solving a less complex problem) or surrogation (substituting a performance measure for goal attainment).

Status Quo

Status Quo appears most typically in the forms of generalization and avoidance:

Generalization

Generalization occurs when a plan is accepted or adopted at the Council level, but not integrated into the working operations of the city. Plan implementation may be added to council, management and department agendas, but on-going engagement in discussing both the plan and its implementation gets almost exclusively focused on existing daily operations or is skipped due to a lack of time spent on other matters. This tendency to generalize the meaning of ‘implement the plan’ leads away from the strategic discussions, decisions and actions required for real plan implementation. Drawing a comparison to small business, it’s like the owner always putting “do marketing” on their task list without a direction (e.g. promoting a special off), specific strategies (e.g. add content to social media, purchase radio spots) or a process of reviewing and measuring outcomes.

The result of this generalization is either (a) an abandonment of the plan (often arising from the feeling that the plan is too big) or (b) a sense that the plan is so comprehensive and well documented that it’s enactment is naturally occurring without an on-going focus (what we can only assume must be an evolutionary product of the common planner reference that a plan is a ‘living, breathing document’).

However, the truth is that generalization results in one outcome: inaction. The lack of on-going conversations at council, management and department levels about the specifics of how the plan and strategy are being implemented, the progress towards implementation, and the measurement of the results and adjustment of strategy leads to deprioritizing the importance of the plan and replacement by more pressing, emerging matters.

It’s a false expectation for a Council or Manager to assume that a broad directive of ‘implement the plan’ without frequent interfacing is enough for a department or individual to determine the who, what, how and why for each plan element that must be accomplished in additional to current operational responsibilities.

 TIP:  Hold regular implementation conversations and (at least) an annual workshop or retreat to make strategic decisions on assigning responsibility, monitoring progress, adjusting strategies, and evaluating success.

Avoidance

Avoidance occurs when a plan is accepted or adopted at the Council level, but due to the city’s present budget and general financial policy, Council and management avoid discussing, recommending, prioritizing and appropriating adequate resources (staff time, programmatic funding, etc.) to carry out the work.

This tendency is to avoid financial decisions (during and after budget adoption) while generally accepting that the community has the staff and financial resources to (at least) begin to implementation of the plan is a manifestation of the general notion that there are inefficiencies or underutilized city resources that will somehow adapt to carry out this responsibility.

The truth is that most cities have focused such great attention in recent years toward controlling expenses to limit property tax increases that existing resources are strained and often less efficient. From combining jobs and duties to asking departments annually to cut a % of their budget but maintain a similar level of service has made government ‘leaner’ but it’s also created an expectation that implementing new plans, strategies and services can be accomplished within existing operations and using existing resources.

It’s a false expectation to assume that successful implementation of a new strategic plan will occur without evaluating the resources (staff, money, etc.) required to succeed.

TIP:  Regularly discuss the delivery of services and allocation of resources to make more strategic decisions that support the plan’s implementation and the city’s broader priorities of government[i],[ii].

Substitution[iii]

Substitution is defined as the act of replacing a more complex element of the plan with an easier action that is rationalized as having successfully met objective.  This occurs as follows:

Cities tend to respond best to emerging issues, emergencies, questions and requests. This ‘fighting fires’ approach is justified because it feels production and it can be rationalizing (subconsciously or not) as being related to or fulfilling one or more of the elements within a work plan.  Substitution takes the place of elements within the plan and is generally (at all levels) accepted as crossing that item off the list.  In practice this may look like the following situation.

The local newspaper starts a quarterly advertorial insert called “The Progress Edition” featuring local business stories and a significant amount of advertising.  The city responds by purchasing a year’s worth of ad space.  The purchase may be good for the city, the newspaper and the community, but the decision is often made by rationalizing the outcome as promoting economic development or marketing the city.  This can become a substitution for the actual marketing elements of the plan and be wrongly counted as fulfilling all or a portion of those associated plan goals.

The truth is that not all city actions can or should be accounted for as actions related to adopted strategic plans. While these actions may benefit the city and community, their replacement (substitution) of more complex and resource intense plan elements won’t ultimately move the city closer to the achieving the established plan goals.

It’s a false expectation that every city action is an extension of the strategies within an adopted strategic plan.

TIP:  Allocate resources to carry out the plan’s implementation and determine how long-term projects will be sustained in the face of both daily operations and emerging requests for resources.

Surrogation

Surrogation happens when the measurement of a goal is interpreted (represented) as the goal.  A common example of this as applied to city operations would involve the goal of high customer satisfaction in the planning department where the speed (# of days) by which building permits are issued comes to singularly represent customer satisfaction.

In the context of implementing a strategic plan, surrogation is a method for simplifying plan implementation by reducing the scope of the strategy to either fit within a budget limitation or to avoid (revolt against) broader systemic change.

The truth is that the desire to prove progress and accomplishment drive a tendency to use performance measures (especially those that are positive) to not just represent how a goal is being achieved, but that the performance measure (if good) is the achievement of the goal. This is misleading and results in a failure to accomplish more meaningful, long term results.  Returning to the example from above, customer satisfaction with a planning department can neither be accomplished nor measured solely by the timely issuance of permits as such measurements may not reflect the difficulty in applying for the permit, the cost of the permit or the experience with permit related inspections.

Further, relying on the performance measures as the goal can lead to crazy interpretations of the performance measure, including (for example) that the timely issuance of permits should only measure how long the jurisdiction took to issue the permit, not how long the overall process took.  The city may have performed much worse when the latter was considered because the city frequently stopped the clock to seek additional information from the applicant.

It’s a false expectation to assume that a single performance measure can accurately represent achievement of a goal and the application of such is an invitation for surrogation to promote a false sense of achievement.

TIP:  Cities should adopt and evaluate performance measures, but such measures of progress and performance should not be singularly focused nor reflect the sole means of determining goal satisfaction.

Endnotes:

[i] Washington State enacted a successful and innovative priorities in government budgeting approach in 2002 under former Governor Gary Locke (background: https://www.innovations.harvard.edu/priorities-government-budgeting)

[ii] For more details, see also The Price of Government: Getting the Results We Need in an Age of Permanent Fiscal Crisis by David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson

[iii] Substitution as referred to herein is a more simplistic view of what’s known as “attribute substitution”