The Plan in the Mirror

To cut a long story short: I am lost and we are not so sure that I will ever be able to get back on track. I simply refuse to accept that the purpose of planning is to make a plan.

For more than 37 years I have been looking at the world from a different angle. Not sure about the purpose of education or the justice of homework. Lost in dreams and finding comfort in drawings. Around the age of 12 the majority of my teachers had given up on me. That was OK, because I had lost interest in them as well.

It’s All Wrong

Somehow I gathered the courage to make it through highschool and even attended college. Two degrees later the system had straightened me enough to think I wanted a ‘normal’ career. I ended up as a business consultant – not really knowing what it all meant.

During that period I came in touch with the most complex methodologies one could ever imagine. Planning and calculation of projects and programs like there was no tomorrow. Fancy books on how to impress customers and how to hide the fact that you are extrapolating assumptions instead of … well … just asking if what you think is correct.
Artist in trouble

This worked for more than a year. But then old symptoms came back: the different angle, and the resistance to conform to a behavior that kept me out of trouble. The solution was to go freelance, that is: breaking free as a last resort. Until now this kept  me out of even bigger trouble, i.e.: away from the investigations from the man in the mirror.

But since a few days, the man in the mirror is back, and he has three questions. Apart from the “What on earth are you here for?” question – of which we both agreed to keep for a more critical point in time – these three questions are business related.

The First Question

The first question was inspired by the observation that I spend about 90% of my day ‘planning’ things. Therefore, the man in the mirror thought it was fair to ask: “Why are you planning?”

  • On first sight the answer is straightforward: we plan in order to ensure time, money and manpower are spent as effectively as possible;
  • But then why do we always come up with such complex plans, estimations and deadlines?
  • Most of all: why does the majority of our plans fail to meet those complex criteria?

The man in the mirror was right. What’s the point in planning if most of the times we are not able to stick to the plan?

The Second Question

So he popped the second question – on April 1st to be precise: ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ You can imagine my reaction to that one: ‘Are you kidding me?’. He was not.  In fact he was reminding me of an article by Seth Godin on the Lizard brain.

The right answer to that question is: the chicken crossed the road because its lizard brain told it to. And that’s when I realized that 90% of our planning activities are done because our lizard brain told us to. Most of the times, we plan because:

  • everybody else does it;
  • we feel insecure without a planning document;
  • it is a ritual we cannot do without
  • we need something to hide behind

Sometimes it seems like detailed planning and procrastination is the way a plan should be made. I’d rather say it’s a form of resistance. To quote Tom Peters:

They say plan it; I say do it.

The Third Question

The third question was the real question: “So if planning does not result in reliable plans, then why should we even bother to plan at all?”

Answering that part was actually pretty easy to do. I just had to think back at the times that I was excited about a plan or the results of a project. It is not so much the analysis and distribution of manpower, money and time that made the difference, but rather the spending of a fourth resource: attention.

Planning matters when:

  • it is an instrument of communication – keeping different parties on the same page at the same pace;
  • it creates momentum
  • it is simple, straightforward and easy to understand
  • everyone around the table is able to translate it into their own words

Finally, he asked if I was saying that time, manpower or money don’t matter? No. The only thing I said is that if you don’t take care of that precious resource ‘attention’ in the planning process, you might as well forget about the  accuracy of other three.

And that’s when the man in the mirror finally said: “Go to bed Luc, you have some planning to do tomorrow”.