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“Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth”

This Friday is December 1st. We’re in a race to the end of the year, personally and professionally. Ideally the breathless 2018 “strategy road maps” (gag me) have already been written, but I’m sure at many companies, those meetings haven’t even commenced yet. Regardless of whether you’ve got your 2018 deliverables laid out on the deck already, I can tell you this: the end of the year, naturally, gets a lot of people thinking about plans. Gotta make some big plans for 2018. BHAGs. Hell, I might run a marathon (full not half), so I’m in on this too. December is mostly a time for awkward holiday parties, sweaters, time with family, rampant capitalism, and reflection/planning.

But we tend to think on planning all wrong.

Mikey Tyson!

The title of this post is a quote attributed to him, which has implications far beyond boxing.

Professional Example: You spend weeks/months having meetings on a strategic road map. All the stakeholders are aligned. Communication seems good. Then the price of an input widget goes up, or your COO is poached by a competitor. You had a plan. You got punched in the mouth. Is the plan still the same? No.

Personal Example: You decide to run a marathon. On Week 3 of training, you destroy your ankle. Had a plan. Got punched in the face. Not the same plan. The obvious one for me, if you’ve ever read this blog, is something like divorce. I’ve been there — semi-recently too. Divorce is a great example here because marriage, especially in the middle class, is tied to tons of plans: house, kids, dogs, hosting Thanksgiving, all the works. That’s the broader plan, right? Then you get punched in the mouth. No longer the same plan. (In this example, the punching is partially done by yourself, because the problems in a relationship are a two-way street.)

Fall down 7 times, stand up 8

I conceptualize it this way sometimes, via here:

Thanks, D-Wade.

The point is: you will/do get punched. What matters is the next moment. How do you build yourself up? What do you do to grow?

The short answer in most situations, BTW, is: find yourself a community.

Why strategic road maps are often pointless

In short, they ignore the title of this post.

They assume the plan is locked-in and things will go well.

That rarely happens.

But then if you want to deviate from the road map, you need to go through layers of process and permission to do so.

In essence, companies lock in a long-term failure strategy and then have processes making it nearly impossible to escape said failure strategy.

Awkward, right?

There is no such thing as a guaranteed decision, and guys have won the Nobel Prize underscoring that idea.

Everything needs to be adjusted as it evolves. That’s the literal definition of “adulthood” in some ways.

Our professional answer to that is process, as in “Process will guide us.”

Wrong.

It often chokes us.

Our personal answer is usually “Let’s bury our head in the sand on this topic.”

Also usually fails. A good current example would be automation.

Automation is going to change everything: self-worth, the role of education, ability to earn money, time usage, etc.

Almost everything will likely be different in 20 years.

Most people just ignore this and think “I’ll be fine, because I’m so and so that does such and such.”

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

Phrased another way…

Uncertainty is the new black.

Embrace it.

And know this: it’s much less about locking in the plan, and much more about knowing how to respond when the plan doesn’t work anymore.

Intractability has no place in modernity.

Ted Bauer

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