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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


Gadzooks, it’s strategic planning time again at the Acme Revolving Brush Company! It’s time to spend days and days in planning meetings with scads of people to come up with that hefty volume which contains the airtight 5-year plan (complete with highly precise man-hour estimates) that when perfectly executed will take the organization to that unequivocal brilliant success that they’ve always dreamed of. Right?

Wrong! (Just writing that second sentence was exhausting.) The plan sits on shelves in high ranking leaders’ offices gathering dust until it’s time to repeat the process all over again. Perhaps the folks at the Acme Brush Company have run afoul of the D.I.E. (Dockery’s Increasing Entropy) Principle, which states:

“The more complex the plan, the less likely that anything will get done.”

The D.I.E. Principle is a further refinement of Occam’s razor (look for the simplest explanation for things; William of Occam, 1300’s) and the KISS Principle (Keep It Short and Simple). The D.I.E. Principle is based on two important considerations: 1) the realistic limits of human motivation, and 2) the realistic limits of human cognitive ability.

Any plan that exceeds the realistic limits of our intrinsic motivation and rational thinking ability can fall prey to this “misplaced precision” syndrome. That is, fine tuning a plan to the tolerances of a gnat’s derriere only helps if, in fact, you are working on a gnat’s derriere.

Most of us can get internally motivated about a plan only if we can see a payoff with a reasonable amount of time and effort. In addition, we can hold only a limited number of pieces of information in our minds at any one time (computer modeling is superior in this regard, but this process is still governed by human limitations because people have to decide what variables to put into the prediction program and how they should be weighted).

When people feel overwhelmed either emotionally or cognitively, they tend to throw in the towel and move on to something else that seems more rewarding and more achievable. Besides, we all know that even the most brilliant plan has to be implemented willingly by people.

Am I saying you shouldn’t have a 5-year plan? Of course not; what I’m suggesting is that it is to your advantage to keep the plan and the planning process simple and flexible enough that they are effective and realistic rather than anal and wasteful.

Example: The Laughable Folly Lake Repair Company invested a lot of time and money into their performance appraisal system, which included elaborate and exhaustive 360-degree feedback from superiors, peers, and subordinates. At performance appraisal time there were tons of forms in triplicate all over the facility. However, the system was so laborious and time intensive that very few people actually took it seriously. Many people only went through the motions to fulfill an administrative requirement that kept their bosses off their backs. Sadly, very little was gained from a process that, when done in a simple and straightforward manner, can be an extremely effective management technique.

The D.I.E. Principle also goes under the general heading of working as “smart” as possible, which means focusing your limited resources on your most important goals. If you’re not convinced, then I suggest instead that you create an exceedingly complex and convoluted plan next time, but be prepared to watch it D.I.E.


Technique #1: Simplify your personal life through focus, prioritization, and saying “no.” Make sure that you achieve your most important personal goals.

Technique #2: Build your work processes and plans around a realistic view of human nature and human limitations; then you won’t be disappointed when people act like people.

Technique #3: Streamline your planning and administrative processes until you are working as “smart” as possible; i.e., you’re getting the optimum results for the least time invested.

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