Plans vs. Planning

This is my season for strategic planning.  Last week I spent a full day with our colleagues at the National Trust Historic Site Filoli for their strategic planning retreat.  As you read this, I’m on a plane for another retreat with 20 team members designed to scale up one of our most important organizational initiatives.  When I return, I have a half-day financial planning retreat set for early August.

That’s a lot of planning!

There are some who say that strategic plans are useless. They generally throw around the phrase “no plan survives contact with the enemy,” which is a popular adaptation of a phrase uttered by Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, also known as Moltke the Elder. He was a German Field Marshal who lived between 1800 and 1891 and is credited with creating a new approach to directing armies in the field. This entailed developing a series of options rather than simply a single plan.  Note that he didn’t stop planning.  He simply recognized that in changing environments, you need options and the ability to move within a widely understood general strategy.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Graham Kenny helps explain why some have challenges with the idea of plans and planning.

“Mention the word ‘plan’ to most managers and the image that springs to their minds might well be a travel plan. Drawn up by travel agents, these lay out in clear and certain terms the sequence of your trip and what to expect when, specifying: where you’re going from, your destination, where you’ll stay en route and when, how you’ll travel, and so forth.

Or they’ll think of the kind of plans builders employ, often referred to as ‘blueprints.’ The result is much the same as with travel: a specific beginning and end with precise steps along the way. Both plans are neat, prescribed, determined — and manageable.  You figure out what to do and then do it.

But not all types of plans have that level of precision.  In a fluid, unpredictable environment you need to have a very different understanding of plans and planning.”

Kenny quotes Churchill (“Plans are of little importance but planning is essential”) and then he moves on to note that in fluid environments, as one sees with strategic plans, we too often think of this work like travel planning when we need a different mindset.  The HBR article has several important principles to consider when planning.  Here are two that resonated with me:

  • First, think of your plan as a guidance tool.  Many managers “anticipate that by doing the necessary analysis and writing down how their business will succeed the world will be converted from uncertain to certain. In their eyes the strategic plan becomes a device for control rather than one of guidance. They’re not comfortable with the fluid and uncertain Moltke-the-Elder concept.”
  • Second, assume the plan is a work in progress. “A strategic plan is not a set-and-forget instrument. It’s a living and breathing document that guides decision making and helps marshal resources.”  Harry Kangis, who developed the One-Page Strategic Plan concept we use at the National Trust, is fond of saying “We’re not pouring concrete here.”

I don’t have to remind many of you that the world doesn’t stand still while we plan.  But that why planning’s important role is in preparing for change.  We all know that change is going to happen. Will you have planned for it?

Journals

Planning is essential

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Baseball at (or just past) the Break

NOTE:  This was a post I meant to finish a week ago.  Then life intervened.

All Star Tickets

Scoring great seats at the All Star Game

In the past three weeks I’ve checked two items off my baseball bucket list and saw the most amazing comeback in my 40+ years of watching this always fascinating sport.  We’re now a little more than a week past the all-star break, the traditional midway point of the baseball season, so it seems appropriate to unleash a few thoughts on you, dear readers, in reverse chronological order to the way they happened.

The All-Star Game is Great Fun:  Washington hosted the 2018 MLB All-Star Game at Nationals Park earlier this month. Almost by a fluke Andrew and I scored great seats.  A colleague—who is British—was given two tickets by a former colleague of his from National Geographic. (Remember that Nat Geo is now owned by FOX, which was televising the game.)  Not caring a great deal for the American pastime, he offered them up to me. For free! Which is how Andrew and I landed in section 133 in fantastic seats for the game on a beautiful Tuesday evening.

Player Introductions

Player introductions at the All Star Game

I love Nats Park when there is a big crowd on hand, and this one was a sellout (even at the outrageous prices). It was great to see all the different jerseys on fans supporting every team in the league. We often see Phillies, Mets, Red Sox, and Orioles jerseys at the ballpark, but we sure don’t see many Trout, Altuve, or Verlanders on this side of the country. I ran into Kiki, a friend from St. Albans, in the long line in the clubhouse store, as we were both successfully seeking All-Star gear. The player introductions were terrific, with a big welcome-home for the Buffalo, Wilson Ramos (boy could we use that bat this year).  Seeing 29 Medal of Honor winners come out to be recognized before the game and having one of them throw out the first ball to Bryce Harper would stir the heart of even the most cynical. A male quartet sang an absolutely gorgeous version of O Canada.  A mass choir formed a flag on the field and sang the national anthem (pre-recorded, but that was okay…the quality was better). Flyovers. Max—the hometown hero—striking out the first two hitters before Mike Trout works him for a 9-pitch walk.  The man-child Aaron “Here Come the” Judge stroking a monster tater off of Max in the second to put the AL up 1-0.  A pretty decent presidents’ race where Teddy was taken out by a flying rabbit (had to be there).  Lots of home runs.  Even more strikeouts.  (Welcome to baseball in 2018.)  Neighbors in the seats nearby from Atlanta and Los Angeles. Everyone just thrilled to be there. Not really caring who wins, but just enjoying seeing these monster lineups (especially on the American League side) go up against pitchers throwing 96-100 mph because they knew they only had to do so for one inning.

I’ve always wanted to attend an All-Star game, but when I checked the ticket prices this year I balked. I’m still saving up in hopes that I will get to a World Series game in Washington before I die. But to have the chance to go this year in our hometown team’s park, in terrific seats, and enjoy it all with Andrew was more of a treat than I even imagined. It is a memory to treasure.

Chalk Up Another One:  Earlier this month I was in San Diego for a conference.  Of course I had checked to see if the Padres were in town.  Yes!  Playing the Dodgers.  Yes!! Since this was one of my stadiums still to be checked off the old bucket list, I invited three friends to join me for a game where monster pitcher Clayton Kershaw was going against the hometown nine.  It really wasn’t much of a match with the Dodgers getting a blowout win, but the ballpark is beautiful and the weather in San Diego is close to perfect every day.

Petco Park Panorama

For those keeping score, here is the list of ballparks visited:

  • Atlanta Braves – Fulton County Stadium (multiple visits in 1980s; never got to Turner Field before they tore it down, but this counts given my rules; don’t want to go to the new one…hate that they moved it to the northern suburbs)
  • Baltimore Orioles – Camden Yards (multiple visits in 1990s and 2000s)
  • Boston Red Sox – Fenway Park (1988)
  • Chicago Cubs – Wrigley Field (1964, 2007, 2012)
  • Chicago White Sox – US Cellular Field (2013)
  • Cleveland Indians – Progressive Field (2014)
  • Colorado Rockies – Coors Field (2008, 2013)
  • Houston Astros – Minute Maid Park (2016)
  • Kansas City Royals – Kauffman Stadium (2009)
  • Los Angeles Angels – Angels Stadium (2016)
  • Milwaukee Brewers – Miller Park (2005)
  • Minnesota Twins – Target Field (2014)
  • Oakland A’s – Oakland Coliseum (2008)
  • Philadelphia Phillies – Citizens Bank Park (2008)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – PNC Park (2013)
  • San Diego Padres – Petco Park (2018)
  • San Francisco Giants – AT&T Park (2012 and 2014)
  • Seattle Mariners – Safeco Field (2009)
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Busch Stadium (old – 1993; new – 2012)
  • Tampa Bay Rays – Tropicana Field (2012)
  • Washington Nationals – RFK (multiple times) and Nationals Park (multiple times + part of a season ticket group since 2012)

And here is the ballparks remaining to visit list:

  • Arizona Diamondbacks – Chase Field
  • Cincinnati Reds – Great American Ball Park
  • Detroit Tigers – Comerica Park (I’ve seen it from the outside, but haven’t made a game.)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – Dodger Stadium (This is the only park that family members – Claire and Andrew – have seen before I have had the opportunity. In Claire’s case, three or four times, no less. That’s just not fair!)
  • Miami Marlins – Marlins Park
  • New York Mets – Citi Field (I think this is an easy one to do, but it never works out.)
  • New York Yankees – Yankee Stadium (I know – how can I not have made it to Yankee stadium yet?!  Just goes to show I’ve never been a big Yankees fan)
  • Texas Rangers – Texas Stadium (Seen from the highway but no game yet)
  • Toronto Blue Jays – Rogers Centre

Every Time the Nats Give You Hope…: Right after the July 4th holiday, Andrew and I went to Nats Park to see the Nationals play the lowly Miami Marlins.  So what happens…well, the Nationals fall behind 9-0.  Just about the time we thought we’d seen enough, our guys start an amazing comeback.  Suffice it to say that the 14-12 Nationals win was the wildest I’ve ever seen live.

Scorecard 14-12

Crazy scorecard for the 14-12 Nats win vs. the Marlins

Of course, you’d think that would build momentum.  But you would be wrong.  This weekend is a perfect example.  After winning three straight, they have the Marlins on the ropes in Miami, only to lose a bitter 2-1 game in 10 innings on Saturday night, and then look brain-dead in losing 5-0 today.

This year is feeling a lot like 2013 and 2015…and that’s not a good thing.  I miss Dusty.

It will be interesting to see if the Nats are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline on Tuesday.  I have no idea what they’ll do, but if they don’t do something quickly they will not be playing in October this year.

The dog days of summer have definitely arrived when it comes to the Nats.  But anytime you get to go to a ballgame – especially with one of your children – I’ll take that no matter how the hometown nine are playing.

2018 All Star Game with Andrew

2018 All Star Game with Andrew

More to come…

DJB

Collaboration Moves at the Speed of Trust

Earlier this month I attended a conference where speaker after speaker inspired the attendees while addressing some of the key issues of our time.  My notebook was filled with thoughts and information.  However, one note—a  Chris Thompson quote—stood out for me above all the rest.

“Collaboration moves at the speed of trust.”

 This simple assertion has been playing around in my mind ever since.  When I came to the National Trust more than two decades ago, I recall sitting in a meeting where I asked a colleague why she was not engaging others in the organization on a particular project.  Her response was, “I don’t trust them to do the job to the standard I want.”  It struck me as a telling remark on a number of levels, but this long-ago exchange was one of the first thoughts that came into my mind when I heard Chris Thompson’s quote. This colleague—a wonderful person who now runs a successful one-person consulting firm—was upfront in admitting her lack of trust.  And that lack of trust meant that she was not going to collaborate.

Trust is something earned, and when lost we have to work hard to rebuild it in others. I find that when I take an action that causes a loss of trust in others, or when others make decisions or take actions that cause me to lose my trust in them, the first step to rebuilding that trust is to acknowledge the loss. Together. Disagreements don’t necessarily break the bonds of trust, as they simply represent different perspectives.  However, at other times disagreements, as well as mistakes that go unacknowledged, break those bonds. We are so often focused on making an excuse for a mistake that we don’t step back and say, “I didn’t act out of my values, and I recognize that I’ve lost your trust.”  That simple acknowledgement goes a long way towards building a culture of collaboration.  The poet David Wythe has noted that as individuals are promoted in organizations and businesses they often move away from original core technical competencies and move into the field of key human relationships, relationships that are mostly sustained through holding necessary and courageous conversations. I find in many organizations, that’s true at almost every level.  Those conversations and the actions that follow are what build trust.

Collaboration is so important to our success that it is worth the effort to build—and sometimes rebuild—trust.  As the old African proverb says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”

Let’s commit to collaborating at the speed of trust.

Have a good week, and more to come…

DJB

Resilience

There’s an old saying that goes, “The only constant in the world is change.”  That may be hard for some in historic preservation to accept, but I’ve often said that our job as preservationists isn’t to block change, but instead to work to manage the type of future—and communities—we want.

Right or lefgt

Right or left

I was thinking recently about the concept of resilience when facing change.  Author Kathleen Smith has suggested that “Many people spend a great deal of time and energy trying to avoid change, but it will inevitably catch up to them.”  When building personal strategies for strengthening resilience, she begins with the Stephen Covey construct of the ”Circle of Concern/Circle of Influence”, urging us to focus on what we can control.  She also encourages her readers to check their thought patterns.

“In times of change, it’s easy for your mind to cut corners. You might see everything in black or white, or you assume the worst will occur. But if you take the time to examine your thought patterns and assess how rational they are, you might find some space to nudge your thinking towards resilience….You can also generate more positive thoughts if you take the time to remind yourself about transitions and challenges you successfully navigated in the past. Make a list of ways you’ve been resilient in your life, and consider what traits and actions might be able to see you through the current challenge. By focusing on your strengths instead of your weaknesses, you will feel more empowered to meet what lies ahead.”

There are several elements of this passage that strike me as true. I’ve seen, in myself and others, the tendency to cut corners in our thinking and focus on the “worst case scenario” when faced with change. And while the past doesn’t decide the future, we can certainly benefit when we let our present be informed by what we know from the past.

Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”  Change is inevitable.  Resilience is not.  We have to work at it to succeed — both in our communities and in our personal lives.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Be Present When Serendipity Strikes

Harp Guitar

Harp Guitar

It was a flight like dozens of others I’ve taken in the summertime: delayed, due to thunderstorms, and the prospect of climbing into bed much later than planned with an early morning wake-up on the other end.

When I finally boarded last Monday’s flight from Nashville after a day’s work on our campaign to save Music Row, it barely registered that my two seatmates had stashed guitars in the luggage bin. This was Nashville, after all. I mumbled a couple of hellos, and promptly fell into my customary power nap around take-off. Waking up thirty minutes later, I opened my laptop and started work on a project that was overdue.

Only after returning to my seat later in the flight did I exchange real conversation with the woman seated in the middle seat, between her boyfriend and me.  As I often do, I asked what type of guitar she played.  She replied, “One’s a harp guitar and the other is a flamenco guitar.”  Bing!  My mind suddenly woke up.  Harp guitars are pretty esoteric instruments, and those who play them approach their music with religious zeal.  They also tend to be very good musicians. I mentioned to her that I enjoyed the music of Stephen Bennett, a harp guitar devotee. In fact, I was listening to some of his music at that moment on my iPad.  She replied that she knew Stephen, and then seeing that the terrific guitarist and composer Alex De Grassi was next in my musical queue, she said “I’m playing with Alex next week.” She followed that by asking if I knew Tommy Emmanuel, another stellar guitarist.  I replied that I knew his music, but didn’t know him personally, upon which she handed me her headphones and played a video from a recent concert where he joined her for an impromptu—and beautiful—duet on one of her compositions.

At this point I stuck out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m David Brown.”  She replied, “I’m Muriel Anderson.”

Oh my goodness.  I was sitting next to the woman who I’d proclaimed my love for to God and the internet, after hearing her version of the Beatles tune Day Tripper. I had wandered all over BWI airport several years ago trying to find where she was going to play in a gig promoted as BWI Live.

Muriel Anderson

Muriel Anderson

Over the last half hour of the flight we talked guitar makers (her harp guitar was built by Mike Doolin and I showed her pictures of my two Running Dog guitars by luthier Rick Davis), harp guitar festivals, historic preservation and the importance of saving Music Row, and her newest album Nightlight Daylight, which is a two-CD set with music for the morning and music for the evening.  She was pleased that Guitar Player magazine named Nightlight Daylight among the top 10 CDs of the decade but even more pleased, I think, to show me the interactive fiber-optic lighted CD cover.  (Push on the moon and the night stars come out. Very cool!)

This is a musician who has collaborated with some of the best:  the late guitarists Chet Atkins and Les Paul, for example.  Yet she was as engaging, lively, down-to-earth, and interesting in person as she came across on stage and in her music.  When I mentioned the National Trust had a hand in saving RCA Studio A in Nashville, she immediately said, “And you saved Chet’s office!”  I told Muriel that I’d had the privilege of sitting in that very office, finger-picking on a beautiful guitar owned by the man who bought the building at the 11th hour. As we were leaving I said, “I have a Gallagher guitar at home, and I bet you can guess why.”  After thinking a bit she said, “You’re a Doc Watson fan, and that was Doc’s guitar.”  Then she added, “He was my first guitar hero.”  I knew that, having read it online at some point.  He was mine as well.

I know I can be oblivious at times, but this experience reminded me—once again—of how much we need to wake up and focus on life. Not all encounters are so serendipitous or pleasurable, and yours—when they happen—will be different.  Perhaps you’ll get to meet the writer you’ve always admired, or gain an insight for work you’ve long sought but needed a serendipitous moment to find.  When it happens it can be wonderful.  Trouble is, you won’t have the chance if you don’t take your head away from the screen or out of the conversation in your head, and talk with real people.

Have a good week, and when a bit of serendipity comes your way, may you be present to receive it.

More to come…

DJB

Freedom

As Candice and I were walking back from today’s July 4th parade in Takoma Park, we overheard two women—both wearing an “I Care Do U” sticker—talking about the diversity seen in this progressive enclave from the participants of this most all-American of holidays.

There’s your medical marijuana advocates, Christian evangelicals, 9/11 truthers, Republican and Democratic candidates for county executive, the First Panamanian Marching Band of Maryland, Doggie Washerette, the MAGA (Mobsters are Governing America) PAC, all the public works vehicles (love the lawn mower guy spinning around in circles), Boy and Girl Scouts, the Intergalactic Female Motorcycle Federation, the Silver Spring Yacht Club, and the Takoma Park Lesbians and Gays all mixed together.

And don’t forget about the Reel Mower Precision Drill Team.

Keep It Reel

The Takoma Park Reel Mower Precision Drill Team “Keeping It Reel”

There’s a lot of chatter in the right wing entertainment universe these days about political correctness shutting down free speech.  But today’s experience in Takoma Park shows that this narrative about the progressives not hearing from different voices isn’t necessarily true.  Everyone had their say, everyone was treated with respect (if some were treated a bit more enthusiastically than others), and it all happened in a celebratory, civil, and often humorous way.

MAGA meets Takoma Park

MAGA meets Takoma Park

I was thinking about this as I read Dana Milbank’s column in today’s Washington Post about the battle for freedom. Milbank notes that “Every 75 years or so in our history, Americans have renewed their commitment to freedom.” The first time was our Civil War.  That was followed some 75 years later by our emergence from the Great Depression and the entrance into WWII.  Now, we are just past 75 years from that fight, and Milbank notes that much of the country now fears the loss of basic freedoms as Americans.  In a call for us to rededicate ourselves to freedom, he includes:

“Freedom from…constant attacks on women, immigrants, people of color, gay people and Muslims.

Freedom to work and live without discrimination, harassment and violence because of your gender, race or religion.

Freedom to get medical care when you or your children are sick.

Freedom to earn a living wage, to attend college or get job training, and to retire in security.

Freedom from a rigged economy in which the top 1 percent own more than the bottom 90 percent combined.

Freedom to marry whom you choose.

Freedom to make decisions about your own body.

Freedom to send your kids to school without fear for their safety.

Freedom to breathe clean air, to drink clean water, to live on a habitable planet.

Freedom to elect your leaders without the rich, or foreign governments, choosing them for you.

And freedom to speak, to protest and to publish without the threat of violence.”

We’ve never been the country we—or our founders—imagined us to be.  But we can be dedicated to freedom and continue to push toward the type of country we hope to be.

Only in Takoma Park

Celebrating – and fighting for – freedom in Takoma Park

Happy July 4th.

More to come…

DJB

 

The Value of Ritual

Do you have a morning ritual?

If you look at the Wikipedia entry on ritual, one might wonder why I’d ask the question.  Ritual is described as inflexible, where one is governed by rules, and the term is sometimes used by psychologists in a technical sense for a repetitive behavior that is seen as a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorders.

That’s not my experience with ritual.  Writing in Forbes, the author Alexandra Douwes encourages millennials to establish a morning ritual.  Her reasoning is aligned with mine.

“Establishing a morning ritual, preferably one that does not involve a screen, can set the tone for your entire day.

Whether your morning ritual takes place at home or in the office, it’s important to ease into your day, and do it on your own terms. Before you let external factors such as screaming children, urgent emails, and smartphone notifications send you into a state of anxiety, start the day by focusing on the things you can control. A consistent morning ritual will put you in a proactive versus reactive state from the get-go: instead of feeling like you’re playing catch-up, you’re composed and ready to tackle whatever obstacles come your way.”

I was reminded of the importance of ritual—regular, habitual, thoughtful action—while having breakfast with a long-time friend and colleague who now serves as the Master of Emmanuel College in Cambridge.  Fiona joined me for our meal and mentioned that she’d just returned from her two-hour walk, a long-held ritual that she honored every morning, even after enduring a trans-Atlantic flight.  We spoke of how this part of her day helped clear her mind and focus on what’s really important now and in the future.

For many years, my morning ritual involved a partner: Lilly, our Sussex Spaniel.  There was never a question that we were going out for a long morning walk around 5:30, rain or shine. But I soon came to see it not as a chore, but as a daily ritual when I was free to let my mind roam. To think of the day ahead. To begin to stretch my limbs and awaken my bones.  To put me in a proactive rather than reactive state of mind.  After talking with Fiona and being reminded that I didn’t need Lilly to continue that wonderful part of my daily ritual, I’ve added it back into my life.

Lilly at Blessing of the Animals

My long-time partner in morning ritual

Rituals vary, and they should be personal.  Some people read in the quiet of the morning before stirring out of bed. Yoga practice is a key part of many morning rituals. Others play piano before facing the world. Douwes has five tips in her article for how to make a ritual that works and that sticks, and she suggests that a vacation period or a weekend may be a good time to try and begin a new ritual.  As we approach the July 4th holiday here in the U.S., consider whether something small—reading, a walk, taking the time to grind your beans and make a great cup of coffee—could help you begin the day in a proactive state.

Have a good week and enjoy the holiday.

More to come…

DJB