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2004-06-23 14:53:06

Law #17: The Law of Unpredictability

(This entry is part of a series I am writing on The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.)

The Law of Unpredictability says, "Unless you write your competitors' plans, you can't predict the future."

But that doesn't seem to be the main point of this chapter.  What the authors are really saying is that long-range planning doesn't work.  We can try to observe and follow trends.  We can make big-picture predictions.  But if we try to make detailed plans over the long term, our competitors will surprise us and those plans will end up getting scrapped.

I suspect this chapter is a lot more necessary for people like Pepsi and Burger King.  Those guys probably do get tempted to make long-term plans.  But in software, things move so fast that most of us wouldn't even think of trying to make any sort of detailed plan for a five year horizon.  There are exceptions, but in general, the mere notion is absurd.

Nonetheless, although we intuitively know that long-term planning won't work for us, we don't always invest in the alternative.  As Ries and Trout say, "One way to cope with an unpredictable world is to build an enormous amount of flexibility into your organization."

Flexibility is so critical in our industry, especially for a small ISV.  Structure, planning and process have their place, but at the end of the day, your small ISV will probably survive largely on the basis of how well you can adapt to change. 

Take the energy you would have used on long-range planning and use it to make sure your company is flexible.