Plans are Nothing; Planning is Everything

A plan is a diagram or list of steps with timing and resources, used to achieve an objective. Planning just means the creation of a plan.

Dwight Eisenhower, when contemplating the plan for the invasion of Normandy and northwest Europe during World War II said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” His view was that, while both are necessary, plans by their very nature are nothing but static documents while planning is a responsive and dynamic action that brings focus to uncertainty.

What makes the quotation profound is the fact that Eisenhower, while he insisted on painfully detailed, thoroughly debated, minutely documented plans, expected things to not go according to plan. In fact, he believed that a written plan in and of itself was almost superfluous. The real value, he felt, came from the rigorous, vigorous discussion of ideas, challenging of assumptions and exploration of alternatives among the smartest, hardest-nosed people he could find.

It doesn’t mean that plans are worthless, but it’s the process of planning that is most important: where we consider opportunities and challenges and ways to meet them.

It was the General’s way of managing surprises and laying the foundation for creativity under fire. By forcing a disciplined planning process, he forced habitual, critical thinking, and over time created a team that could anticipate and successfully react to a vast array of complex situations.

In business, planning is just as vital, especially when things are rapidly changing and the economy seems to be in constant flux. With the market in less-than-perfect shape and so much uncertainty in the air, many business leaders forego the discipline of establishing a business plan under the assumption that it is a waste of time. This is a mistake. The most essential reason to write a business plan isn’t to set a course of action, but to provide a management tool to use in the present, as well as the future.

Summing-up: The planning process itself (not the resulting plan) is the main thing. So, we have to invest time to do it right. The point of planning is not the plan itself; the point is to develop an understanding of what’s likely to happen in the future, and to be fully prepared for most circumstances.

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