“No plan survives contact with the enemy” is an old military adage, which simultaneously acknowledges the importance of strategic planning and the reality of the unpredictable chaos of the battlefield. In the 1980s, the United States Army adapted its strategic planning process by inventing a concept called Commander’s Intent—a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired end-state of an operation.

Commander’s Intent never specifies so much detail that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events. It aligns the behavior of soldiers at all levels without requiring step-by-step instructions from their leaders. When people know the desired destination, they’re free to improvise, as needed, in arriving there. Instead of a commander enumerating every specific task, they simply specify the intent of the plan, so that as soon as people know what the intent is, they begin generating their own solutions.

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