When you can't work your plan
“The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go oft awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!” — Robert Burns, 1785
I had such high hopes.
As I left for vacation, I told myself the two books I had packed would be put to good use — that there’d be plenty of time for reading and annotating in preparation for today’s edition of Timeless & Timely.
But I failed to live up to that aspiration.
You know how it goes: the last-minute items thrown in suitcases, the hurried departure for the airport, the mad rush through TSA, the crush of passengers trying to board in an orderly fashion, and finally…the sigh of relief as you plunk yourself down in your seat.
The typical high-adrenaline effort that any family excursion requires.
Thinking about it, though, it’s not too dissimilar from a product launch or major announcement for which you might prepare with your team.
You have a well-rehearsed plan, you’ve gone through checklists, everyone has a role, and excitement runs high as the moment closes in.
But in the aftermath, there awaits a set of unexpected items. You never know what they are, so they’re difficult to predict; things go sideways for a variety of reasons, and you simply roll with it, communicate about the situation, and hope for the best outcome.
That’s kind of what happened to me this week. Time with family, late nights, extended meals, extended driving times, and general exhaustion—all of these entities marshaled their forces against my immaculate plan, creating havoc out of what was to be unfettered time to myself.
And so, rather than turning to the deep and thoughtful tomes in my briefcase, I turned instead to a wonderful little verse penned by Robert Burns in 1785: “To a Mouse.”
Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie! — Robert Burns, 1785
Just like the mouse my natural response to falling down on the newsletter topic would have been to cower or to panic. “No newsletter this week? Whatever will the subscribers think?”
I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
How often does this happen to leaders? We create plans — we even create contingency plans — and something happens that throws things askew: a power outage, a natural disaster, a pandemic, traffic, a death in the family, a delay in components, etc., etc.
But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
When our plans become wildly unrecognizable, what matters is what we do in the aftermath of the upset.
It’s about having resilience and understanding that, while our future plans may not look like our past plans, they nevertheless match our abilities to the needs of our stakeholders in the present.
That is, we make do with what we have at hand and we deliver something of value.
Still you are blessed, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!
And with any luck, we allow ourselves to live in the moment, like the mouse, and let the present touch us, concerning ourselves neither with the past nor the future, both of which are out of our reach.
Living in the moment for me this week means boogie boarding and beach time, poolside potables and dinnertime discussions, golf cart getaways and leisurely lunches, all while breathing in the tropical air and embracing family.
And that may be the best-laid plan of all.
As every leader needs to understand the importance of being adaptable, this interview with Jeremiah Owyang, who has always been ready for what’s next, is a fine companion piece.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
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