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Buck conventional business wisdom and focus on short-term planning

I believe in good planning, whether it's a business plan, an educational plan, a retirement plan or a succession plan.

These plans should be in writing because the act of putting something into words is as powerful and as valuable as the thoughts themselves. With that in mind, your day-to-day passion and focus should be on the short term. Why? The only certainty when it comes to best-laid plans is that they are wrong. But by how much, and in what way, and how will you react to the differences?

Short-term goals are where the fun is. Executing them provides all the clues you need to pivot as things invariably turn out differently than you'd imagined. The difference between your short-term goals and reality is where you get to pursue opportunities you probably never thought possible or could have effectively predicted in advance.

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These points were driven home recently when I stumbled upon one of the occasional addresses given by Tim Minchin, the singer, songwriter, actor, comedian and writer. Mr. Minchin is from Australia and he was awarded an honourary degree from his former university.

"... And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals," he advises in his address. "Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you … you never know where you might end up.

"Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won't see the shiny thing out of the corner of your eye."

Mr. Minchin is imparting a life and career lesson, but it can easily be applied to small businesses. He's right. There's something to be said for a dedicated focus on short-term goals. Doing something small every day, and doing it well, will uncover opportunities and advantages that were never part of your financial or other projections.

When writing a business plan, I never forecast more than three years out, and I don't sweat many details beyond 18 months. It's not because I'm lazy. It's because experience has taught me that a world of change can happen between now and a year or two from now, and the absence of too many details in your planning past that point creates a void that will need to be filled. This void can only be filled by doing a great job today and allowing continued, creative thought on what should or could happen tomorrow.

A lack of detail beyond the short term forces your business plan to be revisited frequently and allows it be a living and breathing document. This is to your advantage.

Don't get me wrong, you can't attract investors, employees, customers or suppliers by shrugging off a vision for the future. Those four parties, and others, all want to know there is a bright future ahead and what it might look like. But how you get there is hard to detail in advance.

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Focusing on the near term keeps you and your staff motivated on short-term deliverables. When you break up your long-term vision into what needs to be done tomorrow and by the end of the week, a sense of urgency is created – and that is a good thing.

Otherwise, the task before you can too easily be pushed back until tomorrow. That delay may seem insignificant compared with the three-, four- or five-year plan. But that delay is entirely meaningful within a daily or weekly goal-setting environment.

Plan all you want. Have a vision and share it. That's all worthwhile. But getting great results and allowing the unexpected to influence your future business directions can only happen when you allow yourself to be "micro-ambitious."

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.

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