The only plan you need is to gain knowledge…

In conservation we are usually in the business of change – either changing the fortunes of a species, for example recovering a population, changing a landscape, changing the attitudes of people towards species and ecosystems, changing the impact of threats. The best leaders face these realities and then work out how to address the issues. This is an adaptive process, there may be no plan.

Warren Bennis talks about ‘mastery of the context’. You need to understand the context then work your way through it towards what you want to achieve.

John Seddon goes further – if you want to improve something do not build a plan.¬†When you make a change the only plan should be to study the system – to get knowledge. That knowledge will inform you – you will be able to work out what you need to do. And working it out should not be based upon assumptions or experience of ‘how we did it before’. The working out requires the further acquisition of knowledge.

Once change is applied we should ask ‘is it working’ – and how do we find out? y seeking knowledge of the results.

This is, of course, the scientific process. In the scientific cycle we might experiment to test an idea, but we don’t plan far into the future assuming we know the outcome already. Rather we go through cycles of knowledge acquisition to enable us to make further decisions about action and testing. The investment in thought, resources and time is focused upon action-ing what is important. The time spent on ‘management’ (planning, delegating, setting targets, monitoring) is eliminated. Everyone is instead focused on the work.


Bennis W. (1989) On becoming a leader. Addison Wesley, Reading MA.

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.