The Dangerous World of Hope

Apr 29, 2022

I live not far from the BMW plant in Oxford.  As you drove past the entrance a couple of years ago the road was lined with trucks from all over Europe, queueing for their time slot to deliver the parts to make a Mini.  Managing productivity was all about getting good quality components delivered at the lowest price with the minimum stockholding. Lately the plant has been suffering shutdowns because those components are not available. The shift in the world in the last few months, first Covid and now Ukraine, have upended the model that we used to have.  We are slowly beginning to realise that the model is broken and cannot return to its old form.   

I talk to many people who understand that the world has changed but are still not taking the actions they need to take at the speed they need to be taken.  They do not yet have the drive that facing reality gives you.  Their response is still buried in hope. Hope is one of those emotions that keeps humanity going but it is an unreliable partner when it comes to strategic planning.  Strategic planning tends to start in a good place, usually with the assumption that things will go on as they are.  Maybe things will get better? After all, we can always push a little harder?  Enter our old friend, the “stretch target”.  Now you have the ‘normal” case and the “upside case”, but someone is bound to ask for the downside.  You take the normal case and shave a bit off, roughly the same amount as you added to get to the upside. It may not look very pretty but it won’t look too threatening. What you are doing is circling round hope.  Quite a lot of the time that works but every now and then there’s a virus that doesn’t share your hope, or a dictator somewhere that doesn’t care about your plans.  You can hope it will be over quickly, but a far better approach is to say goodbye to hope and start to work on the assumption that reality will go on for a long time and that time may not be on your side.