For the longest time, I’ve been told as a startup entrepreneur to never plan things out. Books, blogs, articles after articles all say the same thing: don’t make a plan because things will never happen the way you expect it to anyways. The saying is to just, “do it instead of thinking about it and planning it out.”
And it’s held true. Almost every single time I’ve planned something, every single time I’ve made assumptions as to how the future will play out, I’m wrong and have ultimately had to change either a part of that plan or scrap the entire plan itself. So in a way, yes, I do believe that plans shouldn’t be made, or at least not in the initial stages before you’ve gotten a grasp of what to actually expect.
But just because you don’t have to make a plan doesn’t mean you stop preparing. Planning is not the same as preparing; they’re entirely two different concepts.
Planning is about needing to know what happens next. You make a series of assumptions based on research you’ve done, and draw from intuition and personal experience to create a guide of sorts to identify the best path to work towards. It’s a way for us to try and predict all the possibilities of the future. Preparation, on the other hand, is being ready for whatever happens next regardless of the planning you’ve done.
A lot of people think preparation and planning are the same things, but they’re not.
When you act on a plan, there is a chance that you might succeed. There is a change that all things will align and go just as smoothly as you expected it to be. But what about the moments when your plans don’t actually work? What about the moments when a wrench lands right in the midst of your plans? Saying you’ll have a backup plan is illogical because you can’t have a backup plan for something you didn’t know would happen. When that plan fails, and you no longer have a plan to follow, the preparation you’ve made is what will determine the outcome.
There’s a twist to a popular children’s story, related to all of this, that I’d like to share:
An ant and a grasshopper are neighbors in a farmer’s field. The grasshopper was always happy and excited, looking for new things to do. It would hop around, chirp, make friends and spend its summer contently. The ant, on the other hand, was always serious and hardworking. It began stockpiling food even when the days were long and winter was far away.
Curious, the grasshopper asked the ant one day, “Why are you always working so hard and stockpiling food even though it’s not winter yet?” The ant replied, “If I wait for winter to come before stockpiling food, it’ll have been too late.”
And the ant was right. Winter came unexpectedly early that year, and the grasshopper, without having stockpiled enough food starved and eventually died. The ant made it past winter, content that it had taken the proper preparations.
The ant had no idea that winter would have come early that year, but he still survived because he took the time to make prior preparations. This quote by Maya Angelou captures the underlying message of the story perfectly: “Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”
It’s impossible to predict the future because there are always factors out of our control. The only thing we can do is be prepared. If our car suddenly has a flat tire and we’re stranded on the side of the road, being prepared means having the knowledge and the tools needed to change the tire. If we’ve gotten into a car accident, having our seatbelts on and car insurance ready on hand is what it means to be prepared. Being prepared means that we have what it takes to adapt to the situation when things don’t go as planned.
Grandmasters chess players plan on average seven–20 steps ahead of the game but are ready to abandon that plan at a moments notice if their opponent chooses a different path other than what’s expected. There’s no way the grandmaster will continue forward with the same plan if their opponent performs a move that’s entirely out of their expectations. Instead, they’d act accordingly and craft a new plan as they go. They’re prepared to respond regardless of whatever happens next.
I remember as a kid, I used to learn everything and anything I could. I would soak up knowledge like a sponge regardless of what it was. Things that seemingly made no sense or carried any sense of practical usage, I still attempted to learn.
Growing up, I’ve had friends and family ask me why I know all of these silly, nonsensical, random facts. They think it’s silly because the facts felt mostly pointless, being of no help to anyone.
But years later, looking back now, I have an answer:
Every piece of knowledge you have, regardless of its immediate usability can be considered to be a tool in your toolbox/brain. You won’t always need to use all your tools for a task, but what’s important is that you have that tool available when the situation arises and you need it the most.
A news article I read several weeks ago talked about an eight-year-old boy saving the life of his seven-year-old classmate. The students were celebrating their annual Valentine’s party at school when the girl started choking on a gummy bear. The 8-year-old boy, realizing what happened, immediately grabbed her neck and performed the Heimlich maneuver, saving her life.
Can you imagine what might’ve happened had the boy not known the Heimlich maneuver? That random piece of knowledge was the tool he used to save someone’s life. Every piece of knowledge, no matter how obscure and random may eventually come in handy. It might not be as dramatic as saving a life, but it’s often enough to help you progress in life.
The key is being prepared. You can spend your whole life making plans, trying to predict exactly how things will happen but unless you’re prepared, you’ll always find yourself stumbling when the time calls for it, when it matters the most. If planning is the path you’ve drawn towards success, preparation is the light you need to follow that path when it gets dark.
“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” — Robert H. Schuller