Learning not to plan-and not worrying about it

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”, said world champion boxing champion Mike Tyson. Very wise words, not only in the ring.

Corona has struck us in the face. And the new variants of the corona virus may well do the trick and finally  teach the world how to deal more effectively with exceedingly prolonged ambiguity as an ongoing state of affairs.

For the middle east and third world, this is nothing new. There simply is no clarity in the middle east. Everything is up in the air and unknown. Leaders are fickle; geopolitics are like volcanos which rumble and spit out periodic lava, and there is no rhyme and even less reason. It is what it is-unknown.

As a result of this, Israelis for example see planning as a waste of time or a ritual one has to go though to please those who come from more stable environments, in which planning is the staple of life, as in-“shall we book a trip to Tenerife this summer?”

  • “Will the bus I am travelling on explode?”-let’s hope not.
  • “Is the guy who just got on the minibus a terrorist?”-let’s not think about that.
  • “Is it safe to take Road 6 or is it being targeted from Gaza?”-drive to road 6; you cannot let terror guide your everyday decisions.
  • “Can we book a room in Jerusalem?”-is it ever safe to go anywhere?

In many third world countries as well, people know better than to plan all that much. You miss a train-maybe the next one is in a day or two-or next week. Maybe. Or-a typhon puts the internet service out of service, for a month or two, or six. And that apartment  I just rented in that new building-will it be ready in 2 weeks, or perhaps two years? Is that a real cop at the intersection, or a crook? 

So my western friends, join the club. Life is now one big unknown. The world health crisis has not caused a bad case of disruption as much as it has replaced order with constant and ongoing, endless disruption playing havoc with our adaptive mechanisms. And put this is your pipe and smoke it: Planning is counter indicated when the semblance of order has vanished.

It makes much more sense to focus on now, the next 100 meters ahead of us, the next few days. Less vision-more bread and potatoes. More fun-less anxiety. More que sera, sera-and less tight-ass attempts to stay young, healthy forever, and “ahead of the curve”.

All of this has a huge impact on the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of OD, in terms of our focus upon changing, as opposed to adapting to, reality. We have far less control that OD as a profession would leave us to believe.

But that’s another post-although I would love to read your comments about that.






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14 thoughts on “Learning not to plan-and not worrying about it

  1. Another astute observation, Allon, and a straight-line trip to the implications. Reminds me of the quote from my high school buddy, Binnie Peay (who became a four-star general in the US Army, having led the 101st Airborne into Bagdad). After the war we met in DC over breakfast and, somewhere in our conversation, he gave me a quote they teach budding leaders: ‘Planning is priceless. The plan itself is useless.’ Of course that’s because even the most wonders plan survives only until initial contact with the enemy. Our plans, budgets, project timelines and benchmarks only survive until initial contact with. . . Wait for it. . . REALITY.
    Your reality, Allon, like so many around the world these days, is increasingly filled with uncertainty, making planning almost a quaint idea.
    Today, maybe a better strategy would be ‘Ready. FIRE. Aim.’

    • Certainly “planning for new normal” or visionary exercises need to be re-examined.
      Much more emphasis needs to be placed on Tyson’s comment-everyone has a plan till you get hit in the head.

  2. כן…ולא.
    אלון, כל הדוגמאות שנתת הן של אנשים פרטיים. ובזה אתה צודק.
    ארגון אינו אדם פרטי. הוא צריך לתכנן, בכל תחום בו הוא פועל.
    בין אם ניהול הרכש, המלאי, ההון האנושי, התזרים ועוד.
    האתגר הגדול הוא איך ארגונים עושים את ההתאמות הנדרשות למציאות משתנה.
    ככל שהארגון גדול יותר, זה יותר מסובך.
    שיהיה סוף שבוע של וודאות. 🙂

  3. OD’s premise does state plan, but it does not negate adaptation or flexibility. So, as you mention of many non-western contexts, specificity is not a pre-requisite for plans. E.g. In India, a Westerner gets the first cultural shock when on the road trip from the airport to the city hotel. The chaos is figured out by locals in the context. The policeman is one of them. He does not enforce the rules per se; but will not deny that he yearns for a respect for guidelines he wishes to legitimize. Yes, to each policeman his own within the broad ambits of law of the land.
    So, the criterion is not about planning; nor about tolerance for ambiguity. It is more about relating to the other in one’s context with regard to what one can expect from the other in a timeframe. The timeframes specify the nature, tangibility or even the experience of the outcome.
    I am so reminded of one of my school classmate’s father who taught him, that it is common to hear “Wait for 5 minutes here will you? I’ll be back in an hour”.
    The philosophical underpinning that goes with such social psychology of mutual adjustments is that institutionalization has more inclusive boundaries in the East. It is slower, but perhaps, more amenable to change over longer arcs of time. In the West, immediacy shapes need for certainty, that underpins need for a plan. After all, management as a paradigm would not exist if it were not for depleting and finite physical resources that man wishes to utilize optimally, to call himself civil.

  4. “Take it a day at a time” is the new way of living, it seems.

    My son David and his fiancé Mariella have been planning for a couple of years toward a wedding in a few weeks on January 15. The new wave of coronavirus is exploding around us here in New Jersey and New York. Do they stay on track for the wedding, knowing it could be a super-spreader event? Or do they scale it down to a simple ceremony, and postpone the big party (over 125 guests) to the Summer?

    You are so right, Allon. There is so much unknown and out of our control. The end result is that you have no idea what to do.

  5. Thank you. I have been sharing this with my family, friends, and colleagues.
    The gist of this blog is: “Most of the world cannot plan for tomorrow. Few have the luxury of a predictable future. To those few, now that CoVid has arrived, welcome to our world.”

    It’s a good reminder about how cultural-centric I can be at times.

  6. John, that’s a paraphrase of a quote that’s been widely attributed to Eishnhower, although I’ve seen it attributed to others as well.

    In my experience, the primary value of strategic planning isn’t the plan itself but rather the changes in thinking that a good, well facilitated process brings about.

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