Yes it’s true. 100% of the plans you make whether at work, planning your career or anything else are wrong. Why? Because no one can foresee the future with 100% accuracy and since all plans are forward looking they are always wrong. The question is how wrong and how right and how will you know which is which?
I was fortunate to learn this lesson very early in my career. I was working at GE on a very large project that would land in front of the CEO (Jack Welch at the time). After a few 80 hour weeks, my manager and I were going through the last review prior to sending it up the chain. We went through it and all seemed good. Then I’ll never forget what my manager did next. He pushed the project summary back across the table at me and said “Katrina, what is the one thing you know is always true about every plan?” Being entirely too tired for riddles, I said I wasn’t sure and was frankly a little too tired to guess well. My manager replied “They are all wrong – every single one.” Snapshot the first moment in my career that I nearly burst into tears – I’d worked my you-know-what off for weeks and now the plan is WRONG?!?
Keeping my calm, I asked what exactly was wrong. The answer was this – “Nothing is wrong with the plan itself. But plans are forward looking and no one can predict the future with 100% certainty. Some of the most successful business endeavors occur because people are watching in real time; keeping an eye on the market, on customers, on the competition, on the world. So tell me how you will provide a radar to the world in this plan and what are the sign posts that will trigger a shift in the plan and then you can call the plan both complete and well done.”
So I did and the plan went up the chain to very positive feedback and impact. And I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my career. You only know what you know in this moment. The world is not a static place. So if you don’t have a radar to adjust to the world around you, prepare yourself to either achieve success through luck or make your own good fortune by moving in tandem with and sometimes ahead of the world around you.
Yes the radar matters. It matters a lot. A good radar is a mix of data analytics, qualitative experience, related experience from other industries, sectors or customer segments and good old fashioned gut-feel. This combination has served me very well over my career – it is some of that rare, timeless advice. I’m very thankful to my manager at the time at GE as he taught me this and many other things about business on a global scale.
So the next time you’re building a plan remember that it is wrong, not because you don’t know what you’re doing, but because all plans are wrong. So build your radar and don’t rest on your laurels. Enjoy the success that results – it will be amazing!