One of the more stubborn recurrent paradoxes in all business planning is the problem of consistency vs. the brick wall.

Consistency refers to a fact of life in small business strategy: it’s better to have a mediocre strategy consistently applied over three or more years than a series of brilliant strategies, each applied for six months or so. This is frustrating, because people get bored with consistency, and almost always the people running a strategy are bored with it long before the market understands it.

For example, I was consulting with Apple Computer during the 1980s when the Macintosh platform became the foundation of what we now call “desktop publishing.” We take it for granted today, but back in 1985 when the first laser printers came out, it was like magic. Suddenly a single person in a home office could produce documents that looked professional.

People might argue with this, but what I think I saw in Apple at that time was smart young managers getting bored with desktop publishing long before the market even understood what it was. They started looking at multimedia and other bright shiny new things, lost concentration on desktop publishing, and lost a lot of market potential as Windows vendors moved in with competitive products.

The brick wall, on the other hand, refers to the futility of trying to implement a flawed plan. You’ve probably run into this problem at times. People insist on doing something “because that’s the plan” when in fact it just isn’t working. That kind of thinking has something to do with why some Web companies survived the first dotcom boom and others didn’t. It also explains why some business experts question the value of the business plan. That’s sloppy thinking, in my opinion, confusing the value of the planning with the mistake of implementing a plan without change or review, just because it’s the plan.

This consistency vs. revision paradox is one of the best and most obvious reasons for having people — owners and managers — run the business planning, rather than algorithms or artificial intelligence. It takes people to deal with this critical judgment.

One good way to deal with it is focusing on the assumptions. Identify the key assumptions and whether or not they’ve changed. When assumptions have changed there is no virtue whatsoever in sticking to the plan you built on top of them. Use your common sense. Were you wrong about the whole thing, or just about timing? Has something else happened, like market problems or disruptive technology, or competition, to change your basic assumptions?

Do not revise your plan glibly. Remember that some of the best strategies take longer to implement. Remember also that you’re living with it every day; it is naturally going to seem old to you, and boring, long before the target audience gets it.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.