Good plan, poor execution

As some of you may know, I’m into the second year in a row of marathon training. During these two years, especially during the long runs, I’ve had many epiphanies: a-ha! moments and stories that I’m always eager to share with my readers when I get back.

Problem is that after long runs, if you’re doing it right, you don’t feel like writing very much. It’s actually quite tiring.

But today as I await my flight to India to attend a *real* Indian wedding (big shout-out to the soon-to-be-married-man Mahendra; and strike one off the bucket list for moi), I thought I would write about what went through my head as I slogged through my two hour run yesterday.

It was these words: a great plan poorly executed may be worse than having no plan at all.

The reason these words kept playing through my mind was that as I was running this long run I was thinking about the last long run.

And you know what happened during the last long run?

My phone died.

There was heavy rain and yada yada my phone got wet and even after days of dehumidifying never recovered.

But the fact that the phone died wasn’t the most frustrating part of this.

The most frustrating part was that I had prepared for this exact scenario, prepared for the rain.

I always run with my phone because I like tracking my runs with the oddly-motivational Nike Run Club app (beat my distance record Study Group folks!)

But my phone’s not waterproof; or water-resistant. The only water-anything it is is water-averse.

So when I take my phone on my runs I make sure it’s always placed in a waterproof bag in case of rain.

On that fateful day though, at about the 26km mark, I realised that my phone was no longer reading to me my distance though it was supposed to do so every kilometre.

So this was odd. But I didn’t think too much about it.

The rain was heavy. And it was very loud. It might have drowned out (ugh, drowned!) the sound.

More kilometres passed and still nothing. I got curious.

I opened the back pants pocket where I kept my phone, and to my horror the bag that I had kept my phone in was open.

Rainwater had crept in. Lots of it. And my phone was swimming in it.

It reminded me of those commercials where a product is deliberately placed underwater to showcase its water-resistant capabilities.

It was in a weird sense funny.

(I laughed to myself for a second before realising the implications. Upon realising what it meant, the humour turned into a deep profound sadness. Hitting the proverbial running wall at the same time as finding out your phone had died is an experience I wouldn’t wish upon my fiercest enemies.)

I suspect that without the waterproof bag the water would have just slipped off the phone anyways. Instead of keeping water out, the bag kept the water in.

It was a good plan (the waterproof bag), but terribly executed (failure of properly sealing the bag).

On a related note, this actually brings to mind a couple of frameworks/mental models.

There is a quote by George Patton that is equally true but stands, on the surface, in opposition of what I wrote above:

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.

The thing is, I fully agree with Patton’s quote as well.

In the right circumstances, for example in war, timing is everything. And because on the battlefield things can change so quickly, there really isn’t anything you can plan perfectly for.

One of the quotes that I find best exemplifies this is from Mike Tyson:

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

There is also one of things I learned in my decision making class by one of my favourite lecturers when I was at the University of Western Australia (UWA), Doina Olaru. She taught a module called Decision Making, and one of the key lessons that I learned from that class was that good decisions don’t necessarily end with good outcomes.

The decision to go into the run with my phone in the bag was a good decision. But poor execution led to a poor outcome.

I just wanted to end with a short little story on Olaru and decision making. Back when I was in UWA I was actually taking two classes with her: Decision Making and Applied Data Analysis.

Close to the end of the semester, we had to hand in our final assignments, which constituted a large percentage of our grades. Due to working part time in the weeks leading up to the deadline for my Applied Data Analysis assignment, the deadline totally slipped my mind.

I only realised that it was due on the day that it was due. In short, I was doomed.

I wrote to Olaru, telling her my situation, applying what I had learned in her Decision Making class.

I mentioned to her that due to my making a decision to work part-time (which was a good decision, as it helped offset my tuition fees and living expenses), I ended with a terrible outcome (missing the deadline), and that I was deeply sorry.

Would she, I asked, be willing to give me an extension to the end of the weekend?

She very graciously agreed.

I ended up getting a very good mark for that assignment (89%) and a “High Distinction” for that module.

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