Back on December 3, 2020, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Conference on World Affairs. I had the third speaking spot, usually a good place to be because you can adjust your comments based on the first two presentations. And while I did that, I was a bit distracted because of a three-word phrase the presenter before me, Jan Singer, had used when discussing what the future might hold in the world of retail, that was bouncing around my head.
Jan simply said “fewer, better things” and suddenly I was viewing everything through that perspective. So much so that I wrote one of my better blog posts titled just that – Fewer Better Things. This was back at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when we were all dealing with a global crisis and trying to figure out how the future would irrevocably change. “Fewer better things” was what we all had been trying to do in 2020 and 2021 with fewer staff and fewer resources and fewer visitors while serving a new and significant role within our community.
But what caused that three-word phrase to capture my thought process was the realization that “fewer better things” was not only going to be how we operated during the pandemic, but also how we would need to operate going forward. Specifically, I felt that this approach may very well be part of whatever the next normal would be and since then I have seen nothing to really change my mind on that. I remain convinced that developing sustainable business plans for our organizations demands a “fewer better things” approach.
Fewer, Better Things
The phrase "fewer, better things" encapsulates the idea of focusing on quality over quantity. The principle is rooted in simplicity and emphasizes the need to direct resources and efforts toward a narrower, but still high value, set of goals or objectives rather than spreading them thinly over many projects or initiatives. The essence of the phrase lies in the belief that doing a few things exceptionally well is better than doing many things averagely.
Organizations typically face several opportunities and challenges simultaneously, and it is easy to become scattered in trying to address them all. I know that is certainly true at Destinations International. Adopting a "fewer, better things" approach helps us set clear priorities, ensuring that the most crucial aspects receive the necessary time and resources.
This focused approach also allows for a more effective allocation of resources. Rather than being thinly spread across various goals, labor, capital, and other bandwidths, resources are concentrated on key priorities. Furthermore, when there are fewer, well-defined goals, it is easier to communicate what is important to the entire organization. This helps align everyone's efforts towards common goals. But most of all, this approach places quality over quantity. Fewer initiatives usually mean more time can be spent on each, allowing for greater depth and quality in execution. This could lead to better outcomes and greater impacts.
One more thing, a side benefit of this approach that I have found usually true is that when attention is focused, it often leads to greater innovation in the chosen or targeted area. This happens because all the creative energies of the people involved are channeled towards solving specific challenges or maximizing opportunities.
Building Longer Runways to Land Bigger Planes
Last year I introduced a new, second concept, "building longer runways to land bigger planes," which is a metaphor used to express the concept of scaling up or preparing for larger opportunities or challenges. As we rebounded from the challenges and opportunities of the last few years and rebuilt Destinations International a second time, we needed a concept to guide our focus and restrain our best, but dangerous, intentions to build back quickly.
"Building longer runways" refers to the preparation, infrastructure development, and strategic planning necessary for growth or change. It includes improving skills, expanding capacity, investing in technology or equipment, and other measures that provide more time or resources for achieving goals. A longer runway allows more time for adjustments and reduces the risk of running out of resources before the goal is achieved.
"Landing bigger planes" represents larger goals, opportunities, or challenges. A bigger plane could be a larger project, a major initiative, a significant grant, a new product launch, or any other major endeavor that would bring substantial benefits but also requires greater resources and planning to execute successfully.
So "Building Longer Runways to Land Bigger Planes" means preparing and equipping oneself or one's organization to take on bigger challenges or seize larger opportunities by strategically investing in capacity building and resource allocation. It suggests the notion of thinking ahead, scaling strategically, and being ready to capitalize on opportunities as they arise. When you put these two concepts together, you get to the place I am in when I head off to do some strategic planning.
Now we all know (hopefully) that strategic planning is critical for any endeavor as it provides a roadmap for achieving our goals. It establishes our direction, guides our decision-making, and helps ensure that all our efforts align with our overall objectives. Without a strategic plan, we risk wasting resources on activities that do not move closer to our goals or, even worse, working towards goals that are not truly meaningful or beneficial.
A strategic plan also facilitates better coordination and communication within our organization. Everyone knows the big picture and how their individual tasks contribute to it, promoting a sense of purpose and unity. It provides clear roles and responsibilities, reducing potential overlaps or gaps in our work.
Moreover, strategic planning aids in resource allocation, ensuring that an organization’s resources are directed towards its most critical needs. At Destinations International, this includes human resources, financial resources, and, most importantly, time. Finally, a strategic plan is a powerful tool for tracking progress, allowing us to measure performance against predefined targets and adjust our approach, as necessary. In summary, a strategic plan brings clarity, direction, efficiency, and a mechanism for monitoring and adjustment to any endeavor.
Both the concepts of "fewer, better things" and "building longer runways to land bigger planes" serve as powerful metaphors to guide my team and I through the strategic planning process. It allows us to focus on quality, depth, and long-term vision.
We use the "fewer, better things" approach to identify the essential needs of our members, our core competencies, and the crucial objectives of our departments. We ask what it is we can do exceptionally well that helps set Destinations International apart from other peer organizations. We focus on these as our key priorities. We then begin to allocate resources like personnel, and time to these priorities (finance comes during a later review to see what needs to be trimmed back, what new money can be found to support the initiative or what needs to be delayed or cut). The idea is to make sure we are set up to execute the few things, essential things extremely well.
Next, we use the "building longer runways" concept to inform our long-term strategic vision. We assess what investments in people, infrastructure, skills, or partnerships need to be made on the front end to achieve future goals. We develop strategies that not only focus on immediate deliverables but are also scalable and sustainable overall. These are our “longer runways.”
As we work through the process, we always ensure that everyone on the team understands both the immediate focus areas and the long-term vision, so everyone is aligned and working cohesively. Finally, we identify, or in some cases, create Key Performance Indicators and other metrics that can measure both the effectiveness of focusing on "fewer better things" and the progress towards "landing bigger planes."
Once we have completed the strategic planning process, all this gets built out in a business plan and budget that is further refined and then approved by the Destinations International Board of Directors and the Destinations International Foundation Board of Trustees. Then the real fun begins. As we start implementing the strategy we also begin adapting. External factors almost always change, requiring adjustments to our runways or even reconsidering what ”planes” we still want to land. We keep revising our strategic focus and investments as needed throughout the year to continue focusing on fewer, better things and building even longer, more effective runways. And then it is August again!
As you move forward in your planning for 2024 and beyond, try integrating these two concepts and see if your strategic plan becomes a balanced mix of focused excellence in the short term and visionary, scalable planning for the long term.