A plan is like a wax mold: When you pour the hot metal in, the wax form you spent hours perfecting melts away.
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Reading Time: 2 minutes
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“Hermione, when have any of our plans every actually worked? We plan, we get there and all hell breaks loose.”
–Harry Potter, The Deathly Hallows
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“We’re going to have fun, right?”
My 17-year-old niece is looking at the planning grid for our upcoming trip to New York City, her first. I don’t usually plan my vacations, but everything my niece wants to do requires a timed ticket. We’ll be taking the subway everywhere, so those directions are on the grid. I’ve also included suggestions for stuff my niece might enjoy when they are near what she has asked to do.
After assuring my niece that having fun is the outcome we’re after, I run the grid by two seasoned parents. Seasoned parent #1 is says: “You won’t be able to do all that. Better scale it back.” Parent #2 says: “This is fantastic! I want to take this trip. Send me a copy?”
Based on this feedback, I decide the grid is ready for use.
What a plan does
- It clarifies your desired outcome. Check! Ours is fun. 17-year-old fun.
- It gives you a clear path to your outcome. Check!
- The plan isn’t the outcome: You can’t let the plan bully you with its neat boxes and black-and-white certainty.
Just Add People…But First: Einstein
Einstein’s study of Brownian Motion is not his most famous contribution to science, but it may be his most profound. Brownian Motion refers the random twitching of pollen grains suspended in a drop of water. The water was still. What was making the pollen jump around like that?
Einstein’s calculations showed that, as the molecules that made up the water bounced around randomly, they occasionally bumped into the pollen grains making them twitch.
Let’s say the plan is the pollen, and the world at large is the water, which is full of molecules – let’s call them people – moving randomly. When you launch your little pollen grain into the world of jostling molecules, all hell breaks loose.
For example, the subway is late, or it’s rerouted or both: It’s all detailed in the 5 pages of service changes posted in every station. Who knew thousands of people would be willing to stand in 20-degree weather for hours to see the Empire State Building? And, I have grossly underestimated the importance of shopping to a 17-year-old female. Grossly underestimated it.
When the grain of pollen is your meeting agenda, you arrive late, the materials didn’t get to everybody, your quietest member launches into a passionate, long speech, 2 team-mates get into an argument, and your star performer challenges you about not being invited to a key meeting.
This is NOT the meeting you planned.
You have a choice. Do you rigidly adhere to your idea of how the meeting was supposed to go, or do you abandon the plan altogether and let yourself be led by the group?
It’s not the plan’s fault that your meeting is being buffeted by random events. It’s not anybody’s fault.
But without an outcome, you might be itching for something or someone to blame You need a third option: Flex the plan in favor of the outcome – the result – you’re after and let the people take you there. When you know the result you’re headed for, you can welcome the messiness of human interaction. That messiness is going to get you there faster, better, and with more energy. There’s no need to tidy the messiness away, and no need to tense up when your perfect plan is being eaten up by what’s actually happening..
When your group has a clear outcome, they will find the most efficient path to get there. The route they take may not look like your agenda. It may look bumpy and inefficient, like pollen moving for no apparent reason. That’s OK. Enjoy the ride.