Planning For Failure

“We spend a lot of time planning. We even make contingency plans for what to do if the main plan goes wrong. But what if the plan goes right, and we still fail?  This is the most dreaded kind of failure, because it tricks you into thinking that you’re in control and that you’re succeeding.”  -Eric Ries

The one problem with dedicated strategy planning…

Is that we often move forward with this unfounded belief that we’ve covered all the angles.

Beginning with an attitude of ‘we have all of the answers’ is almost undoubtedly a forecast for a storm brewing on the horizon. It sets the stage for arrogant disillusionment and disappointment in the end. No matter how well thought a plan may appear to be, there is always going to be unforeseen difficulties along the way. An inability to recognize and understand this up front, can often doom leaders and their organization from reaching any type of positive outcome.

You can plan extensively, prepare diligently, have everything in the right place, and the plan can still fall flat and fail. You can reach what Eric Ries has termed, “achieved failure.” Being so focused on the cleverness and brilliance of the plan itself, you fail to take into account the intangible factors that can impede effective implementation and acceptance. The plan fails to take into account organizational and individual readiness, the prevailing culture, leadership influence, as well as a plethora of other factors that can doom the process and overall outcome. Or as Eric Ries shares, you become “so focused on executing a plan that you don’t stop to work out if it’s a good plan or not.”

Today’s effective leaders move forward with the humility and humbleness to understand that no matter how much planning, discussion or meeting time goes into a plan, there will always be the need for changes and readjustments along the way. When leaders are unable to approach their work from this reflective and vulnerable stance, they fail to pivot and make the needed changes and adjustments when necessary. Instead, they plow. They put their head down and push and plow forward. They work from the belief that if they just work harder and push more, the plan will eventually be effective.The problem is…

It won’t.

And without course adjustments, “achieved failure” will be what is waiting at the end of the line.

We have to be willing to look at our assumptions, our perspectives and even our inflexibilities. Otherwise, executing what you’ve determined to be the perfect plan can and will end in utter disappointment and failure. No matter how much planning and precision went into the execution of the plan.

Which is why the author’s of How Google Works believe that it is important that we focus a little less on the plan and a little more on creating the right team to implement a plan. Or as they share, “successful teams spot the flaws in the plan and adjust.” Which necessitates the need for more creative and innovative thinkers and less mandated implementers. Those who feel empowered and autonomous to make changes and adjustments when necessary. Unfortunately, we often choose the opposite in many organizations. We put the plan before the people, instead of the other way around. Or as put forth in How Google Works, the “plan is fluid, the foundation stable.”

More than ever, we live in chaotic and turbulent change world that requires reflective leaders who can show the courage and vulnerability to not believe that they have all of the answers. And while the vision may remain the same, any illusion that there is a straight and linear path to this outcome, is deeply misguided. Don’t be afraid to trust your plan. Just be willing to trust your people even more. Remember, nothing is written in stone anymore.

“Famous pivot stories are often failures but you don’t need to fail before you pivot.  All a pivot is is a change strategy without a change in vision.”  -Eric Ries


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