That great American thinker, innovator and Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, made this brilliant observations: “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”
So we plan. We know that planning gives us a better chance of success. But sometimes we miss the mark, inviting failure. Not the failure of failing to plan, but the failure of overlooking a key point or of falling into “analysis paralysis.” Other causes of failure, such as unanticipated changes beyond one’s control, are not included here because they are beyond our control other than to have a built-in “Plan B” or “bridge back,” or learning lessons and moving on to the next plan.
Overlooking a key point
Jerry left his job at one of the Big Four consulting firms and started his own business. While he had been making a lot of money, he never had time for anything but work. He had an MBA from a top Ivy League school and several years’ experience analyzing business problems, so he assumed the business end of things would be a cakewalk.
As a small business, he could offer the same consulting work he used to do but for affordable fees. Jerry assumed it would be easy to attract small businesses to his services.
Since Jerry knew all about business planning, and he had good habits that would allow him to carry out his plan, he imagined nothing but success.
Four months after opening his own consulting business, Jerry found that expenses far exceeded accounts receivable, and that the money he put into the business to cover expenses while he got up and running was running out. With no cash flow, he knew he had to come up with a plan or seek a salaried job.
Fighting off depression and a sense of failure he had never experienced in the past, Jerry swallowed his pride and called his mentor from his previous job.
“You only planned for success,” his mentor noted. “You need to plan for failure as well. Some people call that Plan B. I call it common sense.”
Jerry protested, “I should’ve planned to fail?”
“No, I mean you should have had backup planned into your plans. You could’ve traded services for some expenses you incurred. You had time to work in exchange for goods or services. Instead you spent money assuming you had enough in reserve to cover you until there was more business.
“You also have slow pays because you didn’t ask for retainers. So now you don’t have adequate cash flow.
“And what have you done to promote word-of-mouth referrals and a flow of new business? While you have great credentials and an impressive resume, many people care more about whether they like you as a person and what you’ve done for them.
“And one last thing,” his mentor said as he finished his drink. “When you left our firm you didn’t ask about referrals of small jobs that might help you get established. Or doing contract work. You built no bridge back in case things didn’t work out with your new business.”
Jerry looked downcast. “Is there any chance I could get my old job back?”
“No, and I don’t want you to give up this quickly on your new business. I think you have what it takes, and I think you now realize how important it is to plan for all contingencies. I also have a small piece of business we can’t afford to take which you would be good at. I’ll talk to this company tomorrow and refer them to you.”
Jerry went back to his office with his mentor’s words ringing in his ears. He had said to himself so often in recent months, “Failure is not an option!” It kept him going, it staved off fear. Now he realized it had kept him from being objective, it had kept him from planning for contingencies, that he had not done what all his training said was so important to do.
He drafted a plan. It wasn’t too late to offload some of his expenses. He would volunteer work and mingle with people more, getting to know them so he could explain the work he did. He would look for contract work. He wouldn’t spend more than he was earning. He spent an hour reviewing posts online and gleaned some practical suggestions.
He wrote a personal note to his mentor, thanking him for his advice and encouragement, before he headed home.
Overplanning and not doing
“Analysis paralysis” occurs when we overthink something and do nothing through indecision. By looking for the “perfect solution” we prevent any action that might lead to a good or better solution.
Shakespeare immortalized this in Hamlet, whose failure to act had a tragic outcome. More often our failure to act costs us opportunities. I had a friend who could not decide on what house to buy. She had the down payment money and a loan guarantee, but no house she saw seemed right. I’m just the opposite. If a house satisfies my short list of “non-negotiables,” I figure I can fix the rest and I sign immediately.
If we look for potential opportunities, then our plans must put us in the place to encounter them, rather than wait until everything is lined up exactly. Returning to Jerry’s story, he did volunteer work and encountered potential business connections with other volunteers. He also networked with fellow professionals. He had believed he was too busy to go out to what he considered social occasions. Now he saw them as opportunities to work the room and set up business contacts. The shift in thinking his mentor inspired allowed him to move forward with his original plans, with increased potential outcomes.
Some useful tools when we need to plan are questions that reveal our real reasons and obstacles that may cause “analysis paralysis” or set us back in some other way. In my new book, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, I discuss the eight “START NOW” questions that lead to successful outcomes. You can bake in success before you spend a lot of time on an important problem/decision/project/goal. To get a free copy of the questions in a 2-page PDF, click here.