I often use this phrase when something that involved a solid plan with great thought behind the plan turns-out badly.
One of the main reasons that I like this phrase is that it acknowledges that strategic thinking may not always yield good results. And, if something does go wrong, there may not be someone or something responsible for the issue.
A public relations director planned the perfect timing to distribute a press release to maximize news coverage. And, two hours after releasing it, a major community leader’s house burned down, taking all attention away from the release.
A bride and groom can plan their wedding for the time of year with the least likelihood of weather issues, and a fluke weather pattern can still create bad weather that day.
A retirement planning firm bought ads during a TV show series. In the ad, they positioned their financial planner, named Mary, as someone you could trust. One of the episodes of the TV show, unfortunately, was about a famous cult leader also named Mary and how she duped so many out of their fortunes.
You can almost always learn some things from incidents that execute badly, despite the best planning, but sometimes they are simply flukes. The trick is to know the difference.
Implementing a new project, cultural change, movement, etc. is never easy. But one thing that can make it easier is to define each of your strategies as either active or passive.
Implementing a new project, cultural change, movement, etc. is never easy.But one thing that can make it easier is to define each of your strategies as either active or passive.
Passive vs. Active Strategy
Most of us are familiar with the line from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” This is the classic example of a passive strategy; they build the place for people to enjoy, but they make no effort to encourage people to come. The idea is, if it’s there and people want it, they will find it. While it makes for an inspiring movie, it’s only partially true when it comes to implementing change with results. These types of passive, or indirect strategies, do help support the overall strategy, but they must be mixed with active strategies as well.
An active strategy is much more direct; if you do this action, you can expect a specific result related to your goal directly from that action. For example, in a business, if your goal is to increase sales, branding marketing (image ads, corporate sponsorships of community causes) would be passive to making a sale, while sales representatives asking for purchase, coupons, special sales offers etc. are direct/active strategies.
Examples: Politics and OER
One example that I think can hit home for everyone right now is politics. Instinctively, we all know that complaining about politics or debating with our contacts on social media isn’t going to lead directly to change. We may change a mind, eventually, but that isn’t going to solve the larger issues.
Holding a demonstration or protest: Most people would think that this is active, but, since it usually won’t lead to changing someone’s mind or changing an outcome, it’s passive
Donating to an organization who will directly go and advocate for change: Passive for you, but active in the sense that you are financially supporting someone else to directly ask for change (which you may not be able to do on your own)
In my work for Rice University’s OpenStax, I consult with colleges and universities to encourage faculty to transition to Open Educational Resources (OER), including free textbooks. As part of this process, each school writes a strategic plan that includes specific strategies they will complete to encourage faculty to adopt.
The question I always ask them is: Does this strategy involve you directly asking faculty to adopt an OER? If the answer is yes, then you have a active/direct strategy, if the answer is no, then you have a passive strategy.
Having a display of OER textbooks on the campus. The faculty will see them and look at them and consider adopting them: Passive
Going to a faculty member’s office and asking them to pilot an OER: Active
Hosting a faculty panel discussion about OER: Passive
Having a sign-in sheet at the above panel and following-up with each attendee afterward individually to ask them to adopt an OER: Active
Offering grants in exchange for adoption: Active
Combining Passive and Active Strategies for Results
The key is not to eliminate passive strategies, the goal is to mix both passive and active strategies in a way that creates momentum.
For example, this blog post is a passive strategy, but if I send it to people so they know the difference between the two types of strategies and then use that to help them incorporate both into a strategic plan, that creates momentum. If the protest/demonstration you hold drives PR and traffic to your website, you can use that traffic to ask them to sign-up for more information, sign a petition, etc. thus turning that passive strategy into a way for you to move forward with more resources and support.
The most important thing is that you identify and consider your combination of passive and active strategies and plan for effective results.