Great ideas often go nowhere. The idea may have merit, relevance, and a capable persistent champion. At the beginning, there is a burst of enthusiasm. Then, at an early stage, there is an unanticipated obstacle, momentum is lost, and time passes the proposal by.
Plan for obstacles and opposition. The likelihood of success is increased by identifying alternate options in advance. These options increase flexibility to respond to unpredictable circumstances as they occur. Momentum can then be maintained.
Example—Ferdinand Magellan’s 1519 Expedition
Ferdinand Magellan’s idea for an expedition to the Spice Islands and circumnavigation of the earth is an example of multiple path planning. This expedition, at least as it is presented in introductory history, reads as if Magellan simply requested and was given the ships and the crew to sail west into the ocean. In fact, obtaining a commission for a fleet was a highly improbable long shot. In perspective, Magellan was a Portuguese expatriate trying to convince a hostile Spain to support his proposal rather than that of Spanish nationals. It took a lot of flexibility, cunning, politics, negotiating and luck to pull this off. The path from idea to approval of the fleet did not follow a predictable process. However, for the crucial elements, Magellan had multiple options. For example:
Two governments–The kings of Portugal and Spain, bitter rivals, had the opportunity to provide a charter for the expedition.
Both government and private risk brokers were involved in financial backing
A number of different goals appealed to the sponsors: Spices, land, glory, power over rivals, and the potential for huge wealth.
Assistance was obtained from Portuguese expatriates, alliances with rivals, court lobbyists and proprietary knowledge.
All of these options were used as the decision process played out into the final commission to launch the expedition. History remembers Magellan, not the ideas of his rivals. Of course, Magellan himself did not survive the expedition, but that is a story of execution (literally in this case).
Multiple Path Planning–Application to New Ideas
The process from idea to approval can not be expected to follow the initially proposed path. Increase the likelihood for success by planning multiple options.
1. Even before the idea is presented, identify the crucial elements needed for support.
2. Crucial elements are specific for a project, but may include sponsors, funding, schedules, expertise, and resources.
3. Although it at first may appear that there is only one option for each of these crucial elements, stretch to find others.
These options may not be needed, but can provide the flexibility to keep momentum when the obstacles are encountered and increase the chance the idea will progress to an actual project.
Multiple Path Planning stretches the thinking at an early stage in the process when planning has the most leverage on the activity. This stretching exercise is related to method of Put Aside the First Idea described earlier.