Work Backwards From a Long-Term Vision of the Future to Define Proximate Objectives

Discovery-driven planning is a technique whereby you define the parameters of a future state and then work backward to understand what would have to be true for that future to come about. Before making a big commitment, you can then make “little bets” that are designed to yield new intelligence, breaking the big inflection point down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Identify checkpoints: points at which you can learn something and determine whether you should continue to move forward or pivot away from the plan.

In discovery-driven planning, strategists start by defining success. The point isn’t to predict what will occur, but to build alignment around the value of an initiative. From there, benchmarks or key outcomes can be defined to evaluate on an ongoing basis whether the vision is becoming reality. At key checkpoints, fundamental assumptions can be pressure tested through the search for dis-confirming evidence.

A related concept is Richard Rumelt's notion of the "proximate objective," an objective that is near enough so as to be reasonably attainable by the organization.



McGrath, Rita Gunther. Seeing around Corners: How to Spot Inflection Points in Business before They Happen. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019.

Rumelt, Richard. Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters. Illustrated edition. New York: Currency, 2011.