There is no plan that can be intelligently constructed without one, singular constant. A constant gives perspective and makes it possible to work out both tactics and measurements. Without it, a plan cannot be successful – because we don’t know what success looks like.
Let me give you a simple example. You’re planning a product release; you know you have to release something that has some amount of content, it has to be delivered on a date, it’s expected to cost some amount of money, and is expected to deliver some level of revenue, and, presumably, some profit margin. That’s five variables, all of which are important. But which is going to be the constant? If you don’t commit to one of them as the core element around which the plan will be based, the chances are good that the goal posts will move frequently, and your release will be unsuccessful.
Real life example: I have a chum introducing a new business, and he is now moving from development to beta phase. I asked him the other day whether he was getting tons of beta customers in. His (in my opinion, brilliant) response was that he was doing really well…because he’d set a goal of a specific number of beta customers, and he was nearly there. One he reaches that number, he can strike that goal off the list and proceed. Had he not set a specific target number, he could have been stuck in customer acquisition forever, never quite sure if he had ‘enough’: instead, he will know exactly when he has enough.
This comes up because there’s a whole lot of all-variable buzz in the air. The Instagram sale has generated huge buzz, not surprising given the dollar signs associated with it, but it has totally knocked expectations in the industry out of whack. Now the temptation is to plan for getting ‘massive’ customer engagement, then sell for ‘massive’ amounts of money. As it turns out, though, that’s an unexecutable goal. Now, a goal of ‘gain 30 million users’, followed by a goal of ‘sell for a minimum 5x return for the shareholders’, is a plan that someone can get behind.
The constant-free approach is all around us, and if you keep your eye open for the next 48 hours, you’ll see it all over the place. You’ll see colleagues trying to work out whether they’ve been successful without a constant to compare actual results to – but they can’t tell if they did ‘well’ because they didn’t define what would be a ‘good’ result. You’ll see amateur investors trying to feel good about a 3% return, even though their initial goal was ‘as high a return as possible’. You’ll see kids, parents and teachers trying to decide whether their test scores are where everyone hoped they’d be, while measuring them against the vaguest of targets. Heck, you’ll catch people trying to work out their family vacations in a situation where the various participants are still not agreed upon a date, a destination or a budget. All of these are what I like to call aspirations, rather than plans.
So next time you’re planning anything, remember the Constant Constant: there has to be a single grounding principle behind any plan in order to execute, and in order to evaluate how it went. If you’re dealing with nothing but variables, then your result will inevitably be impossible to achieve, and harder still to measure.