Get back into your game and win even when all you’ve got to plan with is zero stuff.
No one goes through life planning to fail. But, as credited to Winston Churchill, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail”. Precise and pungent, this aphorism applies in business as well as in all areas of human endeavors. Planning is a must for success in governments, the military, and all areas of human activity.
At the personal level, many of us started the year with plans, some of which we couched as New Year resolutions. Be they personal or organizational, sticking to and following through on plans could be daunting. Poor planning or lack of it is a significant cause of business and personal failures.
With no end in sight to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, planning for any envisaged outcome has become more overwhelming. Typically, plans are made with material, financial, time, or human resources. How then do we make business plans when markets and customers are shutting down because of falling demands for their products and services?
At the personal level, how do you plan when you’ve been “downsized” for months or years with your savings fast vaporizing? First, you must get back into the game, for only then can you ever hope to plan for winning.
VUCA best describes the realities and the uncertainties of these present times. With VUCA, rapid and unpredictable changes become the norm. The acronym VUCA stands for;
- Volatile. Change is violent and uncontrollable.
- Uncertain. The future is unpredictable, making it hard to prepare for.
- Complex. With so much going on, things can often feel chaotic and confused.
- Ambiguous. We lack clarity because it’s hard to know what the root cause of the problem is.
Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity, while lack of preparation often results in harvests of missed opportunities. How then do we plan in the background of unrelenting VUCA? Also, how do you plan when there is nothing to plan with — no grist?
Through planning, we make decisions that will affect future outcomes. The future is full of uncertainties, and it is impossible to predict what is going to happen when we get there. Through planning, we prepare for the future’s inescapable arrival.
The path and route for any journey always look smooth and neat on Google Maps. But as your journey progresses, there may be roadblocks and traffic jams along the way. You may even have to change your route or postpone your trip for another day. In other to complete your journey (the plan), you need to make adjustments all throughout the trip (the planning). This in part is what an American president meant when he quipped that;
Planning is everything. The plan is nothing.
~ Dwight Eisenhower
Nothing good lasts forever because all good things have their endings. Uncertain as the future may be now, well may it be said that every bad dream has its expiry date. No matter how turbulent our present uncertainties, they will soon become history. Well, then should you bid cynicism begone.
The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
~ William Arthur Ward
The times are uncertain and planning is not about determining what will happen, but what might happen and what you can do about it.
At the personal level, here are some tips to step you up from ground zero. From zero level where there is nothing to plan with, you mount the first step of the ladder, stepping back into the game.
The key is not to predict the future, but to prepare for it.
~ Pericles (Ancient Greek Statesman)
Here are some tips to help you get back into the game.
1. Your vision is your compass. Focus — Sharpen your vision
Don’t lose sight of the goal or what you set out to achieve. The greatest tragedy is not that you tried and failed. The greatest tragedy is that you never tried at all. And most people fail to put in the needed effort for any worthy end because they forget what they set out to achieve. People afflicted with this malady are always drifting from one goal or interest to another. In its wake, lack of vision and focus results in individuals with high but unrealized potentials.
One of the greatest tragedies in life is forgetting what one was trying to achieve.
The following conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland best explains the dangers inherent in forgetting what you are trying to achieve
Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.
2. Preparation is key #1
There you have it. Doesn’t preparation mean the same thing as planning? Centuries ago, seagoing vessels used sails mounted on masts to harness the power of the wind to propel sea-going vessels forward. Till today, yachts harness the power of the wind to push boats across oceans.
The winds may be low or completely against your ship now, but you must ready your sails to catch the winds that may be on their way not too far behind right now. For many, the preparation may simply mean learning a new skill. You may also need to have your plan A backed up by a realistic plan B.
“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”
~ Alvin Toffler.
3. Don’t fall into the pitfalls of the planning fallacy
Proposed by Professors Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the Planning Fallacy is defined as “the tendency to underestimate the time needed to complete a future task, due in part to the reliance on overly optimistic scenarios.” This is a pitfall that many of us do often fall into.
In our excitement to arrive at a solution as quickly as possible, we often underestimate the risk, resources, and constraints it will take to get to our desired goals. In their book, Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow, Professors Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky explained how to avoid this pitfall.
4. Ready, Fire, Aim because action always trumps inaction
Let your disposition be biased towards taking action. Always. While planning is still a must, don’t overly depend on them because of the aforementioned Planning Fallacy. Instead, adopt the Ready Fire Aim approach.
This does not mean that you jettison planning. The premise of Ready, Fire Aim predisposes people to take action. This is because, since you can never have all the information needed to make totally risk-free decisions, your bias should be towards taking action on limited information, learning from the actions taken, and then being ready to apply a mid-course correction.
Also, “Ready Fire Aim” does not mean being bull-headed bent on doing something even if it is wrong. It means don’t get trapped in analysis paralysis — studying something to death and never taking action. When properly used, Ready Fire Aim can propel individuals and organizations along. Improperly used, it can cause disasters.
5. Change your environment and soar
The wrong environment can hinder your plans, stifle your potential and checkmate your enthusiasm. The right environment can help to unleash your potentials in unprecedented ways. As a writer, the right environment could be the library. It could also mean joining a writers’ club or a quiet, distraction-free environment — TV-free and internet-free.
6. Keep watering your dreams
Where I live, during the rainy season, the ornament plants and flowers get well-watered. Soon afterward, the dry season sets in, and with it, the earth gets baked into brick dry hardness. During those bleak times, we keep the plants flourishing by regularly watering them until the next rainy season sets in.
This is the same approach you must apply while chasing your dreams. Never allow present challenges to checkmate your dreams. Keep on watering them. Lethargy may want to set in and the tendency to give up too soon in the face of unrelenting hindrances may seem soothing. Watering your dreams will help ward off lethargy and feelings of hopelessness.
How do you do this in practice? For an aspiring writer, it may mean taking online writing courses and increasing your daily practice. It may also mean taking part-time studies to boost your chances of gaining admission to study towards becoming an engineer or a doctor or any other chosen profession.
Consistently watering your dreams is another way of pre-committing to your goals. Pre-commitment keep you going and enables you to take advantage of the next rain of opportunity.
With the anxieties and uncertainties of the COVID-19 still around with us, many people have had their plans delayed indefinitely. These are some tips that will help you get back into the game;
- Your vision is your compass, never lose sight of what you were planning to achieve.
- Preparation is the key. Your luck happens when your preparation meets an opportunity.
- Avoid the pitfalls of the planning fallacy.
- In the long run, actions always trump inaction. Take action and use the lessons learned from those actions to propel you forward.
- Being in the right environment can help to unleash your potentials in unprecedented ways. Don’t stagnate or fossilize in the wrong environment.
- Keep watering your dreams because the rains will fall again.
©Daniel Kahneman; Thinking Fast and Slow, Farrar, Strouss and Giroux, 2011
©Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland
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I originally published this on Medium