To plan or not to plan – that is the question.

“Long term planning” is a dreary word in my dictionary. I have always loathed thinking about what my life / the world will look like in 5 yrs time. The very idea of a “five year plan” conjures up images of India’s socialist misadventures, which led to a country trapped in a time-warp; to be freed finally in 1991 with market led reforms.For those who arent aware of this phase of  India’s politico-economic history, i would suggest meeting me for a discussion.

The economics and politics of that period of time aside, i would like to mull over the very idea of long-term planning in  our world, in the year 2011.  This year will perhaps stand out in our collective memory for several reasons – the Tsunami in Japan, the very many revolutions in the Arab world and perhaps one or two more dramatic events which will unfold in the months to come.

The pace at which our world is changing begs the question : Does “planning” have any significance in today’s world ?

Though i can be a bit of a control freak when it comes to travel, organising events, my world-view has been challenged of late.  In particular, when looking at events in the Arab world, all the wisdom, the gyan and punditry that the intellectuals, scholars and journalists spouted all along has come to naught.

Who could have imagined that Hosni Mubarak would be ousted or that Gaddafi would be seriously challenged ? What would the planners and strategists for several multi-national firms be thinking now, after drawing up their fancy projections for years ahead, and realising that all of it has failed. They will have to start from scratch. And where will their numbers come from ? Where will they start from ? The very base of their projections has  shifted.

A crisis can shift our world entirely. And sometimes permanently. So, does planning have any relevance in such a context ?

During my recent trip to India, my older brother, who works for an IT firm told me that “India is where the action is”. I agree with him to a large extent. But it is also a country that is famous for not planning. Bangalore, the IT capital of the country, and my hometown is famous for its terrible roads and a metro which is being built now, as i write this post. French town planners were hired by the Bangalore Development Authority to do town planning, and in one such presentation that i attended several years ago, i recall hearing the planner complaining that they were being asked to do what the city should have done a good 30 years ago.The Brits did leave with an unfinished task – of teaching the natives how to plan for the future.

What is happening in many parts the city is crisis management, not planning. A road built here, a building demolished there. A city and country coming to terms with itself and its mighty ambition of taking over the world and becoming a “super-power”.

This “development” can be seen as a crisis of sorts. A crisis of identity, or managing expectations and aspirations. And  by the very nature, crisis keep morphing into something new every few weeks/ months.

By this logic, is the new long-term horizon a year, or perhaps 6 months ?

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