Do people use uncertainty as an excuse to do nothing in their lives? Is it tempting to say that because uncertainty exists in the world there is no point trying to plan for a future, and so best to do nothing and deal with what comes along?
Short answer. Yes!
I think one way to look at this is to see Planning (distinct from a plan) as a form of opportunity awareness. Continually planning (devising, revising, reviving, resting, restoring, rearranging, rescheduling, timing, abandoning, copying, conceiving) is the way to go. I think there are problems with those who over-emphasise the security or benefits of “a Plan” or even having a supposed fallback of “a Plan B” – this thinking is static and risks complacency. However the risk of failing to practice planning skills may be even greater.
Like many things planning is a skill – it can be taught, and it requires continual practice or the skills can be diminished. There are some conditions that we need to guard against that I call:
PPP – Pushing Plan Prematurely
POTL – Pulling Out Too Late
SAP – Stubborn Adherence to the Plan
RATS- ReActing Too Slowly
All of these conditions can be remedied by continual Planning, rehearsal etc
Some ways to do this include:
Opportunity awareness “Luck Readiness” – Being Curious, Flexible, Strategic, Persistence, Optimistic, Efficacious, and feeling Lucky
War gaming/ Scenario training – building scenarios to what-if situations continually (Shell Executives in the 1970s famously did this)
Stress testing – working through the plan and testing whether it stands up
Mentoring – running plans past the brains trust and seeking critiques
Daydreaming – thinking up new scenarios, but taking it further and turning the daydream into a fully fledged plan (you do not have to act on it, and it is remarkable how seemingly absurd ideas are more practical and doable that first imagined)
Controlled Failures – deliberately deviating from the plan with sufficient safety nets or fall back positions
Bigger picture thinking – over and above any one plan – what really matters, what are you trying to do on this earth, purpose
From this perpective, we can see why Dwight Eisenhower said (quoted in a book by Richard Nixon in the early 1960s) that “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”
My concern is that a lot of what I’d call planning, or playfulness or planmanship, is overlooked in the rush to getting a plan. The skills are not taught to clients, and there is little encouragement to practice them regularly. Same goes for organisations that tend to stick to Annual planning retreats, and do not – and unlike the Shell executives – regularly practice planning.