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OUR PROPENSITY TO LEAP BEFORE WE LOOK

Posted by Tim Bryce on December 1, 2010

A few things recently got me thinking about the American propensity to “leap before we look.” The recent Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and the Health Care Bill (aka “Obamacare”) are two good examples of fatal deficiencies in our ability to plan. In terms of the Gulf disaster, I was stunned we had no contingency plan as a lot of other countries do. We were simply unprepared for such disasters. Obamacare was different though; instead of taking the time to prepare a full feasibility study, as is customary in the business world, some cockamamie bill was cooked up in a back room in Washington and shoved down our throats. It’s no small wonder people revolted against it. This is a prime example of short stroking the planning process and rushing to implementation. The excuse often is, “We don’t have time to do it right.” Translation: “We have plenty of time to do it wrong,” thereby creating more problems with the program than it cures. This is precisely what we now have with Obamacare, a mess. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there are probably shortcomings and problems in our current health care system, and we could probably do more to help others, but how Obamacare was produced was plain and simply wrong and consequently Congress and the President wasted a lot of time rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The next question is, why do we tend to resist planning? Not just the politicians, but throughout the corporate world (particularly in the I.T. world where planning is openly spurned). The short answer: “Because it requires work.”

The long answer: People tend to resist gazing into the crystal ball and prefer to react to life as it passes them by. Some people believe planning in today’s ever changing world is a waste of time, that you must be more “agile” and accommodate changes as they occur. As anyone who has designed and built anything of substance knows, this is utterly ridiculous. We would not have the many great skyscrapers, bridges, dams, highways, ships, planes, and other sophisticated equipment without the efforts of architects and engineers. Without such planning, our country would look essentially no different than how the pioneers first discovered the continent. Although we must certainly be flexible in our plans, and we will inevitably make some mistakes along the way, little progress would be made if we did not try to plan a course of action and control our destiny.

People often take planning for granted, that someone else will be making plans for us, such as government officials, our corporate management, or even the elders of our families. Consequently we become rather lax about looking into the future. Nor is there any encouragement by anyone to plan our affairs, such as a tax break. Whereas other countries offer incentives to save money for the future, such as Japan, America does not. Therefore, planning is a rather personal activity; we either see the virtue in doing so or we do not.

Americans have become legendary reactionaries who procrastinate until it is too late. We see this in everything from business planning, to career planning, family planning, financial planning, and even planning for our demise. It is simply not in the American psyche to plan, but to react instead. There are plenty of examples to illustrate the point; such as Pearl Harbor (where General Billy Mitchell predicted the attack with great accuracy 17 years prior to December 7th, 1941); there is also Hurricane Katrina (where engineers and government officials knew well in advance of the weaknesses in New Orleans’ system of dykes and levees, yet did nothing about it); and, of course, 9/11 (where we learned a hard lesson of dropping our defenses in the face of terrorism).

Years ago, a long range business plan was for five-to-ten years. Such plans have become scarce in recent times; probable casualties of a dynamic world economy. Now, “long range” either means until the end of the fiscal year or end of the quarter. It is even difficult to get a prioritized list of objectives for a department, let alone a whole company. Instead, companies are now operating under a whirlwind of ever changing “priority ones,” thus confusing workers and causing them to be counterproductive.

In the I.T. arena, planning is still very much a faux pas, but then again, it has always been such. For example, in our “PRIDE”-Information Systems Engineering Methodology (ISEM), developers would like to skip through the early phases used for planning and design, in order to get to the programming phases. In other words, they didn’t feel comfortable in planning and instead preferred to be writing software. This makes for an interesting paradox: although they liked to skip down to programming (where the “real work” was performed), they also liked to complain about deficiencies in requirements definition and other design specifications (which would naturally result from the preceding phases had they been performed). The most common excuse you hear from developers is, “The users do not know what they want.” Basically, this is an admission that the developer is either not properly trained in or lacks the discipline to plan properly.

Part of the problem is that we have become very impatient for results and I think this can be attributed to our technology. For example, we now expect information at our fingertips, instant communications, quick turnarounds in medicine, etc. Instead of patiently waiting for results, we now want instant gratification. Consequently, activities such as planning are perceived as interferences for getting a job done.

There are, of course, several tools available for planning: calendars, statistics and trend analysis, blueprinting and flowcharting, feasibility studies, priority modeling tools, etc.

If we do not understand or appreciate the need for something, we tend to avoid it, but that is not the excuse here. We all have at least a rudimentary idea of what simple planning can do for us, we just balk at doing it.

We fail in planning not because we lack the proper tools, there are actually quite a lot of them available to us, but simply because we lack the discipline or desire to do so. Rather, we prefer to wait until disaster strikes so we can blame others for our problems and hope they can bail us out.

Like it or not, planning represents work. It is also something many of us are not disciplined to do, regardless of how simple it is to perform. We can rationalize why we do not plan all we want, but in the end, it is because of one thing, plain and simple: we are lazy.

“Remember, it’s Ready, Aim, Fire; any other sequence is counterproductive.”
– Bryce’s Law

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

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Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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