1.7 Plan or Planning?

Posted by Mike Kaaks

02 March 2019

1.7 Plan or Planning

The matter of Plan vs Planning comes up often in my coaching. My view on this choice is like that of Eisenhower, although differently expressed. Planning prepares you for whatever emerges as you move ahead irrespective of the path on which you find yourself. A plan is just one path possibly with some risk assessments in case reality turns out differently. I explain it this way. If you reflect on the last ten years of your life and plot life's path over that time the line goes every-which-way. There will have been times when you made great strides forward in your chosen direction and there will be times when it's not so fast or when you have gone sideways, or even backwards. These deviations are not a problem because we learn from all parts of the journey - when things are going well and when they are not going so well. The gems are hidden all over the place.

Having lived such a journey we then write plans for our future that always seems to emerge as a relatively straight line. These plans are most often in even increments at a steady pace. Life just doesn't work this way. The greatest cause of the constant deviations is that we don't live our lives in isolation. Others react to what we are doing. Others have planning of their own playing out. There are yet others who were not even in our lives as we envisioned them when such a plan was written. Ceteris paribus cannot be applied.

The same applies in business where we write rigid plans into a budget and then spend inordinate time bridging from that imperfect baseline to the business as lived. Competitors react, consumers change preferences, suppliers adopt new sales strategies and so on. That's life. Being inflexible in living your plan is high risk. By all means, do the planning, it has great value. Create a view of how the future might be. Just be ready to react, as Eisenhower might have put it, when the enemy attacks on the right flank not the left and today, not tomorrow. Don't seek to walk always and only along the narrow path of a rigid plan.

There have been two sources I draw when considering how a life of Planning works. Joseph Jaworski's seminal book Synchronicity and the Otto Scharmer work it spawned about Theory U, especially his book Leading From the Emerging Future written in collaboration with Karin Kaufer. The title is the message. Recently I had the pleasure of adding another description of the issue. In her TED talk "On Being Wrong " Kathryn Schulz gives us the line "and then something else happened instead". What a perfect way to describe being knocked onto another path.

You need the Planning to be ready for what emerges when something else happens instead.

In Preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

– Dwight D Eisenhower

Absolutely You