Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable

I’m a planner. I’ve always been a planner in my personal life, but I can trace my organizing tendencies in my professional life back to an manager from early in my career who showed me that you could accomplish more of what you want by creating a good plan.

Why Planning is Important

Not everyone likes to plan. It intrigues me how often attitudes toward planning are expressed as all-or-nothing cases. When I talk about the value of planning, I usually receive two general criticisms: 1) “planning every element of your day is restricting and doesn’t allow for any spontaneity or creativity, and 2) “You can’t possibly foresee everything that will happen; so how can you plan effectively?”

I agree with these points, but I clarify by explaining how planning is vital. I’m not talking at all about scheduling every aspect of your day. That is extreme. Wise planning recognizes that it is not an all or nothing choice. I’m well known for repeating a quote from US President and Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower who said: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Planning for battle is probably the ultimate unpredictable scenario.

Flexibility is Critical

The principle is for you to create a plan that describes how you would like things to proceed. You plan for contingencies, and then you implement the plan as closely as possible. Inevitably, things will not go as you hoped, and you will have to change your plan. But if you planned carefully, you will know where you are in the process and what resources you have available. That makes it far easier to adapt to the new scenario.

I’ve found that this principle works well in life, business, and career development. Start with a plan based on what you want to accomplish and when you want to finish. Then, when things turn out differently than you hoped, you will be in a good position to 1) adjust your plan to reach your desired outcome with the new circumstances included in the process, or 2) decide you need to change direction and head toward a different goal. In the case of the second option, having stayed with a plan means you understand your current situation and how you got there. You also know what tools you have ready to apply toward the new objective. This puts you in a much better position to plan effectively to reach your new destination.

Also, this approach to planning gives you the flexibility to incorporate new ideas that occur during the process. Your team will always be poised to modify the plan to make the best response to unexpected circumstances. It balances a high probability of reaching an expected outcome with the flexibility to handle problems and to embrace creative spontaneity along the way.

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2 thoughts on “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable

  1. Dave, I think that you and General Eisenhower are right on. Mayor Giuliani (of New York city) said that previous disaster planning was invaluable for dealing with the September 11th disaster. While the attack was unexpected, the prior planning identified resources and constraints and provided a needed framework for dealing with the disaster.

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