February 12, 2008

Best laid plans

Me and my pal J.P. Ricciardi a few years ago when I was still buying in to his 'plan' for the Blue Jays.
It seems like every other band these days boasts of having a “five-year plan.” I’m not sure why it’s five years, and not three or 10 or seven, but my hunch is that it all stems back to the first five-year pipe band plan that I ever heard of, which ended in 1987, the fifth year of the 78th Fraser Highlanders’ “plan” to win the World Pipe Band Championship.

Bill Livingstone taped a BBC Radio interview from Bellahouston Park just after the prize was announced. He told the world about his band’s five-year plan that started in 1982, and remarkably everything fell into place – “as luck would have it,” Bill said on the radio – and his band carted off the banner, trophy and sash, not to mention the now-extinct British Airways Mace for “Best Overseas Band.”

But I haven’t heard of any pipe band’s five-year plan working out so well since. In fact, five years back then was something aroundwhich you could plan. Today, bands seem to have trouble planning from month-to-month, let alone year-to-year.

My local baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays are now on the eighth year of their General Manager, J.P. Ricciardi’s “five-year plan.” Along the way the team has had four managers; a revolving door at shortstop, second-base, catcher and DH; and untold unforeseen catastrophic injuries – and the last point Ricciardi constantly uses as a crutch, as it were. The team is now on a one-year plan now for Ricciardi, I think, as fans are weary of his increasingly desperate, yappy salesmanship.

Just look back five years and look at the changes that have happened in the pipe band scene. In 2002 the top bands were still playing with maybe 15 pipers. Tenor drumming was only just returning to popularity, if not viability. The idea of “travelers” in bands was nowhere near the trend it is today.

It’s good to try to plan for the future, but sometimes the best plan is no plan at all. I am a firm believer that the best organizations simply need great leadership to succeed – leaders who are best at identifying talent and managing it, rather than creating wonderful, theoretical plans. Using common sense, creativity and intelligence to react quickly to changing conditions is the best plan of all – that and keeping a core group of talented pipers and drummers for a long time.

If a band doesn’t have the right leadership and personnel making thousands of good decisions along the way, no amount of planning will make goals come true. With luck, it might happen, but, chances are, it won’t.




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