The Perils of Planning

You’ve heard it all before… you must have a plan. However, long range planning has been shown not to work. But that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed when things don’t go how you expect.

Planning only works when you can control everything. In most cases in life and business, you don’t have this luxury. Nonetheless, the idea of planning is deeply embedded in people’s minds as being crucial.

If you write a business plan, you’ll be expected to predict sales. This is almost impossible, so you’d just have to guess. And that guess has large consequences – too low, and you won’t be able to exploit a rush in sales. Too high, and you’ll be stuck with unsold stock, too many staff and under-used equipment. You need some way of knowing how many people to hire, what sized factory you’d need, etc. What can you do?

In battle, there are two things you need (in addition to a more powerful force) to succeed. One is tactics, and the other is strategy. Tactics are the short term techniques – what guns we’ll use, what armor. Strategy is what the Generals do. They sit back in the tents and say, “we’ll send these troops round here and surround them, then these troops will move in from the south.”

In the heat of battle, you don’t have much time to think – so that’s why it’s really important to think things through beforehand. You should never come out with a single list of instructions, though, as the first deviation from the plan will mean you’ll lose.

Rather than a list of prophecies (this will happen, then this will happen), it’s more sensible to write a series of “what-if”s.

If this happens, I’ll do this. Otherwise, I’ll do that.

In other words, it’s not so much about what you’re going to do, but how you’ll react when things don’t go your way.

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