You may have heard the military truism “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” And you may broadly interpret that to mean that “No plan survives contact with real life.” That quotes is by Helmuth von Moltke, by the way, but I could just as easily have quoted Robert Burns: “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley” (I suspect you’re just as happy I went with von Moltke.)
Von Moltke also said “Strategy is a system of expedients.”
Expedience has gotten a bad rap. We often have strong opinions about whether “the ends justify the means” or that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
But expedience is morally neutral: All it means it that by keeping the end in mind you take the shortest possible route to your goal. Possible is broadly interpreted to mean whatever actions your conscience, laws of nature, and resources allows.
That’s easy enough, right?
So let’s take it one step further.
Since von Moltke, the backbone of military strategy is to maintain a crystal clear vision of what absolutely has to happen in order for the strategy to be deemed successful. Or, to put it in reverse, if the shit hits the fan where do you put your focus?
Now, this is a really grand exercise when you have 100,000 people under your command. But then, military commanders don’t start cold at this, either.
So lets just start with you.
What is the intention? What’s your goal? Where’s the landmark where you can say ‘done’?
I’ll give you a hint: it’s almost never what you think it is.
Look: you probably have a target in your head of how much money you want to make, right?
And if somebody gave you that money, you probably wouldn’t say no, would you? But then you would turn around and use that money to get what you really want.
If someone gave me a million dollars, I’d up and move to Greece. Why Greece? I don’t know. The Mediterrean climate. The open-air food markets. The emphasis on a life without time constraints.
Ah. That’s the intent!
So: when I go out to make a million dollars so I can move to Greece, I’ll keep in mind that I don’t need GREECE if I can have those other things. Starting with the food, mebbe. Remembering that working 80 hours a week so I can have long days drinking wine on a patio is a short-sighted plan at best.
Expediency. I’ve moved to Virginia, where it’s balmier than I’ve ever seen. I live three miles from the store and go shopping every three days (the grocery store is next door to an open air market, if you can believe it.) And I’m learing, slowly to drift from activity to activity. (Some days are better than others.)
This is only one example!
I could just as easily tell you about a woman I know who was working out an hour and a half 4 days a week to lose weight– — — til she realized that she actually just wanted to feel feminine and good about herself, so she took a belly-dancing class instead.
Or about the project my friend Erin and I are working on, where every time I think we’ve hit ‘good enough’ and am prepared to move forward, she comes up with another glorious iteration that’s even closer to the essence of what we want to create.
And I’ll tell you another secret: Often, when you are just so done with a course of action, and it looks like you’re giving up but it doesn’t feel like you’re giving up — — — You’ve probably already gotten what you wanted– — that is, you’ve executed your Commander’s Intent.
Indulge in all the planning you like. I love to craft plans with lots of moving parts. But save yourself the headache and figure out what you really have in mind. In the event that things go down hill, you will be glad you did.
Second, don’t be at all surprised if what you thought you had in mind, isnt quite right, or you stumbled into a much better alternative than you had previously envisioned. Check that it matches the essence of your intent and TAKE it. In the event that things go uphill, you’ll be glad you weren’t so dogmatic about sticking to The Plan.