President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Ike was hardly the first to offer this simple yet profound guidance. In 1785, Scottish poet Robert Burns coined what has been popularized in modern times as, “The best laid plans of mice and men…[often go awry].”
One day soon, the gifted technologists at GoogleX will no doubt work on developing a crystal ball. But until that time, we mere mortals must rely on the power of thoughtful and meticulous planning to increase our odds of success at important, yet uncertain, junctures.
Be honest with yourself. Do you stock up on extra vitamin C before long flights yet show up to significant meetings less than fully prepared? Do you carefully plan vacations yet fly by the seat of your pants in critical sales pitches? Anything important in life is worth taking the time to plan for, not just the easy or fun things. Yet, more often than we’d like to admit, we wing it in professional settings, don’t we?
We claim we simply don’t have time for planning or delude ourselves into thinking “I got this.” However, if seeking the best possible performance or most favorable outcomes, I contend we don’t have time not to plan! Real pros make planning a non-negotiable priority.
I often look to Steve Jobs for best practices, and he’s of particular inspiration as it relates to powerful planning. For example, his 2011 biography by Walter Isaacson describes some of the forethought that went into the 1998 debut of the iMac:
As always, Jobs was compulsive in preparing for the dramatic unveiling…He repeatedly went over the climactic moment when he would walk across the stage and proclaim, “Say hello to the new iMac.” He wanted the lighting to be perfect so that the translucence of the new machine would be vivid. But after a few run-throughs he was still unsatisfied, an echo of his obsession with stage lighting that Sculley had witnessed at the rehearsals for the original 1984 Macintosh launch. He ordered the lights to be brighter and come on earlier…
Businessweek.com columnist, Carmine Gallo, further demystified the secrets of Jobs’ stage mastery in his book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience. Gallo outlines a technique called the “bucket method” that Jobs employed for rehearsing off-the-cuff remarks and Q&A responses. I paraphrase:
• Start by identifying the most common questions likely to be asked and then “bucket” them into logical categories. The majority of questions will fall into about seven categories, says Gallo.
• Next, formulate the best answer you have for each category such that it will make sense regardless of how the question is phrased.
• When questions are posed, listen carefully to identify a key word or phrase that will help you isolate the relevant “bucket” from which to draw your answer. Such advance planning will enable you to reply with confidence.
Perhaps, Jobs had once been inspired by another of Burns’ quotes: “There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.”