I have been thinking a lot lately about contingency plans and my habit of stating that I don’t believe in them. It seemed sensible to expand on this a little. I start with the premise that there is no plan B. This is of course something the current Government is keen on repeating so am I in agreement with the Chancellor? You can see why I feel the need to explain myself.
My concern is that by creating a serious of contingency plans we actually plan to fail. We create ‘get out’ clauses for ourselves and so don’t throw ourselves fully behind the task at hand. In addition we of course waste time creating more plans. The psychology of failure interests me and my worry is that by reconceptualising failure as simply one of the plans not working we accept too readily defeat.
Ok so the flip side of this is that I am going to stick stubbornly to plan A despite the obvious failings of that course of action and clear evidence of a lack of progress. Not quite. What I prefer is to pursue plan A but remain flexible and adaptive. You see I am not really a fan of plans full stop. I prefer goals and strategies and tactics to achieve those goals. This may seem like semantics but what I am moving towards is a known goal or mission and a toolkit of methods to get me there. I select the best tool given the information I have and work away toward that goal, when evidence suggests that my progress is not as swift as I may desire I shift to an alternate tool.
You need to be very clear about what your goals are, clear but not overly specific. You need to extract the essence of the goal, to identify which base things really matter. For example my goal may be to have a nice chilled evening with my partner. That’s enough though. If I start to over specify which location, which type of food, which type of film I am likely to frustrate my attempts to reach the goal. Instead there are a number of ways of achieving this and whilst the goal remains fixed the methods are free to vary.
The same is true in business. We perhaps have a goal of improving customer satisfaction but then equip our teams with a variety of methods to achieve this. Having a fixed plan, and worse a plan B if that one fails, both prevents the type of reflexive behaviour needed to achieve the goal and allows us to fail without remorse.