The Unexpected

We plan for the expected, but the unexpected so easily and so often wrecks our plans. It’s why most folks don’t plan. They view it as a futile exercise in an increasingly complex and chaotic world.

Increasing uncertainty doesn’t render planning any less useful than seat belts and airbags are in a crash. Not knowing what to expect in the future screams for the preparedness of planning.

The misperception most have about planning is that it is like a road map guiding them from point A (now) to point B (some goal(s) in the future). Problem is, the terrain is changing all the time, sometimes subtly, sometimes significantly, while their plotted course remains fixed. Unknowingly, they travel further and further from their ideal destination.

Effective planning is an active process, with course and resource adjustments along the way to address unexpected setbacks like illnesses, business failures, market crashes, accidents, and so on. No winning coach goes into a game without a game plan and no general goes into battle without a battle plan. But no game or battle ever played out the way they planned them– there are too many unexpected events.

A plan starts out with the obvious: It describes, as completely as practicable, important goals and the means for accomplishing them. Once created, though it is nothing more than a tool that will accomplish nothing of real value until it is executed. But before execution there is another important phase often overlooked. It refines the plan to make it much more resilient in the face of the unexpected. In the skilled hands of a coach, a general, or a financial planner, the plan becomes a simulator, a practice field to test all kinds of possible events in the future.

What if the other team throws the ball more often than they run it, as they usually do? What if the enemy is not where we expect them to be? What if our client loses his or her ability to work? The object of stress-testing is to shock, stretch, strain, turn and twist the plan until it breaks to determine where the weaknesses are and what remedies are needed to shore up discovered weaknesses, while minimizing the cost of those remedies.

But even after extensive what-iffing’ the plan will fall short of precisely describing the future. When the unexpected actually occurs – and it will – the skilled planner will have already identified which resources and actions are available for remedy, significantly reducing the chances that emotion will overcome reason in the heat of crisis. Those resources align perfectly with the client’s priorities discovered in earlier, calmer planning sessions when emotions were not in control. The ‘client-approved’ remedies are tested, real-time for their efficacy, and immediately employed to bring the plan back online with confidence and calm.

It is all too easy these days to become disheartened by the social, political, and economic uncertainty that seems inescapable and uncontrollable. But we do have control over how we will live into it: We can choose to drive through the ever-changing terrain of life, hoping for the best, or we can thrive by planning with confidence to meet the unexpected twists and turns ahead.