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Adrian Savage

I'd like to make a plea to distinguish between PLANNING and PREPARING.

When you plan, you assume you understand what is most likely to happen. It's a useful activity only when the event you're planning for is predictable and you're trying to manage it. An example would be a conference you're going to run. You know it will happen (you've booked the venue) and you also know the agenda.

PREPARING assumes nothing about the future save it's unpredictable. So you prepare yourself and others for a range of possbile outcomes. The idea is to be as ready as possible to cope with whatever comes along.

Learning is a good example of preparing. The more you learn, the more situations you'll be able to cope with, even if you didn't foresee them.

PLANNING can make your response rigid. You don't want to waste the plan, so you follow it even if it doesn't fit too well. PREPARING encourages flexibility and creative responses.

To go back to Sun Tzu. Generals should PREPARE for battle by amassing troops, training them in tactics and stockpiling weapons and supplies. PLANNING for a battle isn't so easy. After all, just about anything can happen. The best generals are all masters of improvisation. It's a rare enemy that does exactly what you expect and co-operates in his own destruction.

Dave Lorenzo


Thanks for your comment.

You raise an interesting issue. I believe that you can set out a plan for each interaction. It does not need to be a rigid step-by-step outline of future events. Successful individuals have an outline of how things will unfold in an ideal situation.

I understand that things rarely unfold the way we have planed; however planning allows us to think through at least some of the potential actions we can take as well as the potential reaction of the other side.

Planning helps us:

1. Understand what we want from the interaction.
2. Attempt to understand what the other side wants from the interaction.

Planning is part of preparation.

Great leaders often use a plan as part of a visualization process. When they enter into “battle” they feel as though they have “fought the battle a thousand times in their mind”. This investment of time in planning does not make them more rigid in their thinking. It provides them with quick and ready access to alternatives – much like a logic tree provides guidance to help people make decisions under trying circumstances.

A good example of this can be found in commercial aviation. Pilots have a manual on the flight deck with descriptions of potential equipment failures and logical responses to offset the danger associated with the failure. The reason for this manual is to help stimulate the pilot’s thinking in a high-pressure situation. Does this thorough planning (the scripting of logical steps to follow in the event of an equipment failure) interfere with their decision-making in a stressful situation or does it help?

In the case of the commercial pilot, additional steps in the preparation process also include spending time in a simulator to practice his reaction under stressful conditions. This is on point with your definition of preparation. However the pilot must have reviewed the plan in the book prior to the additional preparation. If this plan were absent, the pilot’s only learning would be through trial and error. That is hardly acceptable at 30,000 feet.

Planning is an essential part of the preparation process. If planning makes a leader rigid in his decision-making that is a flaw on the part of the leader

Thanks for reading.


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