The Things You Plan For (and the Things You Don’t)

House Bridge Collapse     You can pretty much plan for every contingency, right? Dream on! Murphy, the gent who wrote his famous law, is alive and well, thriving in the overlooked details of our best intentions.

I’ll bet the guy who planned to move this building down a rural highway made all the right plans — almost. He made sure the building was secure on its trailer. He checked the tire pressure. He made sure the tow vehicle was operating properly. He probably had the pilot cars in front and behind to warn motorists he was coming. He took care of practically everything! But one important detail he assumed would not be a problem turned out to be a REALLY huge one.

Unanticipated problems often surface despite our best efforts. I have a good friend who spent years in the direct mail business. She told me once that they had a client in Hawaii for whom they were doing a direct mail piece — tens of thousands of brochures bearing the company’s address. Only thing was, the company was on the Kalanianaole Highway. Not wanting to mess up such a complex name, the team proofread the address a dozen times to make certain they spelled “Kalanianaole” properly. Finally satisfied, they sent the piece to press. Only after the final brochure came back did someone notice that, while they had indeed spelled “Kalanianaole” correctly, they had misspelled “Highway.” The whole order had to be reprinted.

One of the keys to good planning is not to do it all by yourself. I can think back on several examples in my career where I thought I was taking care of all the elements of a project solo, only to overlook one or two really obvious, really important details — like ordering 2,000 sales folders for my radio station and finding out I had specified the wrong colors. (Teal green and magenta came out as baby blue and bubble gum pink — yuck.) Or the time as a junior officer in the Navy when I took custody of 20 copies of an important document that I was supposed to relay immediately to another ship, only to forget and leave them behind my desk — where we found them three days later after we had sailed away. (The admiral was not amused.) Or the time…well, you get the idea.

The wonderful Old Testament book of Proverbs says a lot about this — for example, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the righteous listen to advice.” Ouch! So Rule #1 is to surround yourself with good people and don’t make plans in a vacuum. Rule #2 is to control what we can control. Do your best to plan for every reasonable contingency. But try your best not to obsess unnecessarily — because remember Rule #3: Murphy was right.

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