On Making Plans

There’s a saying attributed to Woody Allen: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” The first time I’d seen it, it made me laugh. Not because it was funny (though it was), but because it was true. It was a nervous laugh. Here’s another quote from the book Rework, written by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (the founders of 37signals; love ’em!):

Unless you’re a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy. There are just too many factors that are out your hands: market conditions, competitors, customers, the economy, etc. Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t control.

Why don’t we just call plans what they really are: guesses.

Now, as much as agree with those quotes above, there is something to be said about the act of planning. Dwight D. Eisenhower said it best: “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”

The act of planning gets you thinking about things. About where your priorities are. About the general direction you want to go.

Even the founders of 37signals, with their disparaging remarks about plans, probably will agree.

37signals is “an intentionally small company” (according to the founders). Somewhere down the line in setting up their business, someone decided that small was better for them. If they hadn’t planned to be that way, it is unlikely they could say that they’re “intentionally” anything, because they wouldn’t have had anything to aspire toward.

The act of planning though, is different from a plan. As I said above, planning forces you to think about things that (theoretically should) work at the time of planning. A plan is just what you think will get you to where you think you want to go, at the time of writing.

Making a plan and immediately burning it is infinitely more useful than not having made a plan at all. But like the 37signals people said, making a plan and then following it to the letter may be just as bad as not having had a plan at all (or worse).

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