– reading time: 6 min –

In war, plans are worthless. But planning is everything.

Said by various war lords

This supposedly was said by Eisenhower, Churchill or Nixon and across the years it reached my ears via a client.

What was meant by that was that the circumstances in war can be so unpredictable that you most probably will have to divert from your plan. Yet having done the planning beforehand, the thinking and strategizing, is invaluable.

Judging by what I come across in consulting entrepreneurs and businesses, established ones and starters, I could say the same thing is true for entrepreneurial life. Especially in covid times.

Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

People design plans to their business goal all the time. And then what?

Then life happens.

And we suddenly can see who has a good relationship with change and who hasn’t.

Here is what happens with people who don’t have a good relationship with change.

Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

Some part of our action plan is not done.

So …we make a new due date for that particular action step.

Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

Yet next time we revise our plan there it is. This bloody thing that, again, didn’t get done.

Then a dangerous cycle starts up. Dangerous to our chances of creating what it is we want to create. And we know this because under the hood this is what happens. We become anxious. So we seek the safety of a conclusion.

Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

And by lack of true understanding the conclusion is: it must be me.

We take it personally.

And ooh, that itches and burns. Not nice at all.

So we try and fix that by promising ourselves to do better. We scare ourselves with the negative consequences into making a resolution or a firm commitment. And for a short time we feel motivated to really, really do this thing this time.

Yet, when next time we look at our plan, we again have it staring in our face. We have not done this one crucial thing. So .. we repeat the process.

Plans are worthless. Planning is everything
Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

Motivation drains. Resistance builds. The whole project starts to feel like a chore. And we hurt our relationship with ourselves because it feels like we can’t rely on our most important employee, us.

So how do we become friends with change?

I do this really simple, yet not easy thing with my clients. We design the path of least resistance to their business goal. And then some time later we meet again to update that plan to the changes in the reality they are working with.

Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

Whenever I see them simply change the due date on an action step that has not been done, I ask them this one simple question: How come?

How come this thing didn’t get done?

The fun thing is, there are only two types of answers to that question.

  1. Answers that show a fluent relationship with change.
    • Right now we know something that we didn’t know back then. This new insight made doing that action step at that point in time unnecessary or not wise or not possible, so we refrained from action accordingly
      • We leave the action step in our plan, unchanged, just change the due date or even take it out all together
  2. Answers that show a disconnect in our relationship with change.
    • We didn’t realize it while executing our plan but this action step is actually not doable for us in its current shape and form. It is too big and hairy. We lack some bit of skill to do it by ourselves. We weren’t able to fit it into our schedule after all.
      • So we break down the step into smaller components or think of ways to find help or assess the way we manage our time and adjust that make sure we will have the time. Sometimes even changing the wording can turn an undoable action step into a doable one
Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

The thing is, in war, business and well, life in general, the plan is not as important as the planning. The plan is there for one reason only and that is to help you move towards your goal with the least possible amount of those unavoidable elements of being human, mess and friction. So while assessing what worked and what didn’t work, only one thing is relevant: did it move you closer to your goal or not?

Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

There is nothing wrong with changing the plan, ditching action steps, devising new ones on the fly. Turning goals into reality is a balancing act between composition and improvisation.

These days I love the word strategizing. It may sound strange to you but I feel like an artist when I design my way from here to that desired thing over there. Yet I also love the freedom of organic movement. Feeling my way forward, jumping on unexpected chances, doing unplanned things.

Your best friend in moving towards your goal is reality. Being fluent in reality is the second important thing you need to create high probabilities of succeeding at bringing your desired outcome into being.

Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

So if this is second important, what is first?

Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

The most important thing is wanting to see this thing exist, wanting it enough to do all the required hard work. And ‘wanting’ is not something that we can enforce. It is like love, you either love this person or this future creation or you don’t. We can’t choose to love a thing. This is the spirit of the creative process. The thing that moves us, that pulls us towards it.

So, if the wanting is about the spirit of our goal, knowing our current reality and letting our actions simply fall out of the difference between where we are now and where we want to be is more about the mechanics. The how.

Planning equals thinking things through really carefully. It is a practise in becoming fluent in our current reality which then makes it easier to stay updated to the changes in reality as we go and adapt our way forward accordingly. That’s why planning is important and the plan, well, not as much.

In adapting to change there are two things that we can come across. External things and internal things. The external things we can’t influence; a pandemic, market crash, a family member falling ill. They just happen and we either work our way around them or we don’t.

Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

Internal things we can influence. They often come down to self management. Understanding our personal make up, they way our systems functions and what we need to be able to do what we want to do.

The thing about a plan is that it is only useful as long as it is in alignment with reality. And we can help ourselves stay in that alignment by asking this one simple question ‘did this action step move us closer to our goal?’ If yes, good. If not, how come?

Don’t ask yourself why but how come. Why’s tend to send our minds off into the ethers. How come steers it right back to the mechanics.

Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

People who ask that question become skilled change makers. The makers of change in their life, their business, their field, changing the world a tiny bit towards a better one.

I had lots of fun drawing these little visuals. And yeah, the last time I practised it is 30 years ago. Yet, I like the way it helps me think through and then tell my little stories. And it is jaw dropping to find out how much you can visualise using a few straight and curved lines. Here is the full sketch.

Plans are worthless. Planning is everything

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    Picture credit of the book with the secret plan to rule the world: by Ann H from Pexels