“No plan survives first contact.”
If that’s the case, how does the military operate efficiently and win battles? After all, if you stick to the plan you could get yourself in big trouble (and your people die). If you riff too far off the plan, you could get yourself in big trouble (and your people die). So what’s the answer? And what does it have to do with life and your career?
Practice, Practice, Practice
My experience in the military taught me there are a lot of little procedures which you practice. You repeat them over and over again. Whether this is how to march in formation or how to secure a building in a threat situation, you learn the procedures and you practice them until they become almost second nature. I imagine combat units practice some of their procedures until they are second nature. You know when to enact the procedures, what the parameters are for when they are appropriate, and since you’ve practiced them, you are able to quickly run through them.
Therefore, if things change right before your eyes, if you have a procedure that fits, you go with it. There are two advantages: (1) you know what you’re doing and (2) the people around you know what you’re doing, too, and are likely executing on the same procedure. If the situation isn’t perfectly within the parameters, usually there’s something that’s close. Most folks can riff to what they’ve been taught and begin to execute. If it’s not obvious, that’s what the chain-of-command is for. They give the order. They should be doing this regardless but this becomes most critical when things are not clear. Then you are back in the situation where you know what you’re doing and the people around you know what you’re doing, too.
The key here is to prepare. You prepare for what you expect, but you also prepare for other likely possibilities. In other words, you pull a Winston Churchill. Churchill was renowned for his impromptu comments and quotes. The truth of the matter is these weren’t impromptu. They were constantly rehearsed and prepared for the appropriate situation. That’s what led to this quote:
“I’m just preparing my impromptu remarks.” – Winston Churchill
Be ready to change from the plan as life changes around you. Consider the parameters and how things have changed. Hopefully, you’ve prepared beforehand some responses to possible scenarios you might encounter. If so, switch to another preparation if it matches or is pretty close. And if there’s nothing close?
Intuition and Confidence
One of the things that has been said about US military personnel is that they are often able to function when the plan hits the fan and the immediate leadership is down. New plans are created on the fly and people execute. These aren’t often the best plans, but the force of will carries the day. There’s a saying in chess:
“A bad plan beats no plan most days.”
It may be something you come up with on the spot, but if you have an idea of the direction to go and you push off full force, you may succeed just by force of will. You desire to succeed can often carry the day. This isn’t to say that you rush into something without giving it due consideration. You take the time you need/have, whichever is lesser and you go. But after you make a choice on what to do, believe in yourself and your ability to carry it out. Even a less than ideal plan can lead to success if you believe in it.