Breaking news! The biggest challenge of planning

August 27, 2018

In this post, I discuss the biggest challenge of planning.

One morning, a man was passing through a forest and he saw two people cutting a tree with one of those hand-held crosscut saws. In the evening, on the way back, he was surprised to see the same two people, working on the same tree and sweating profusely. He was intrigued.

He spoke to them. ‘Guys, I saw you in the morning at pretty much the same place. What happened?’

One of the guys shot back. ‘The saw is blunt.’

‘So, why don’t you sharpen the saw?’

The other guy responded. ‘We don’t have the time.’

Planning time is often viewed as a waste of time

I narrate this story in my training sessions to illustrate the fact that we seem to pay scant respect to planning – in this example, taking some time to sharpen the saw will make the execution efficient and effective. We are always in a tearing hurry to execute. There is so much importance given to execution that the time spent on any activity that is not ‘execution’ is considered a waste of time. Therefore, ‘planning’ to a larger extent and ‘progress review’ to a smaller extent are viewed as a waste of time.

Planning involves holding a telescope to the eye instead of a magnifying glass, looking beyond the immediate, charting a course of action while assessing risks, looking at dependencies and any linkages. It involves having an alternate course of action should the primary course fail.

Without planning, execution leading to the desired results could even be a matter of coincidence. Coincidences cannot be used to coach others who are interested in replicating the success. In this sense, planning is like creating a recipe book for others to cook. Plans that achieved success can also be used to scale up operations.

Slow down to speed up

As a facilitator, I am all too aware of this bias. In a workshop, even as I am introducing an activity to be performed by the participants, I can see them getting restless to begin. At that point, I could be explaining critical rules of the activity but they don’t really seem to care. As a result, I have to keep reminding them to listen to the rules.

This ‘disease’ of plunging headlong into execution without much or any planning can be seen in the affairs of our country, as well. For instance, one could look at education, urban planning, sports and even in traffic management. Recently, even in the way man-made disasters are occurring, it points to our scant respect to planning – several reports that point to planned sustainable development are gathering dust.

Since we don’t believe in planning, when we get the desired results without much planning, we use such ‘case studies’ to justify to ourselves that planning is really not important or even that it is unnecessary. We consider ourselves smart – while the rest of the world takes eons to plan, we have our own jugaad (an innovative fix or a simple workaround) approach to get to the results.

So, why has planning taken a backseat?

Belief in fate

I am no psychologist or anthropologist to determine the reasons but I can harbor a guess.

In the larger scheme of things, it may have to do with our belief in fate.

Many of us believe that whatever has to happen, will happen. That nothing much is really in our hands. And if nothing much is really in our hands, why bother about planning?

By the way, I am also a huge advocate of spontaneity. Spontaneity helps us in being agile, quick and responsive to situations. There are innumerable situations in life when planning cannot help. In some cases, planning could be a luxury. In rapidly evolving situations, too much planning could lead to a ‘planning paralysis’ – stuck on the drawing board forever.

There is merit in spontaneity just as there is merit in planning. One needs to be able to alternate between planning and spontaneity, depending on what is needed at that juncture. If our life’s toolkit contains both the ability to plan and the ability to be spontaneous, we would be very well placed in life.

But if our unshakable belief in fate is solely responsible for our scant respect to planning, nothing much can change.

Natural planner

I am a natural planner. Whenever I have led teams, we used to be huddled around a table or sketching our plans on the whiteboard. In this process, I have built planning capabilities in my team to be ahead of the game.

When it came to my own career, I have executed on plans that were created much in advance. Even now, I have a 2-year plan of how my work life will take shape.

For natural planners like me, planning is an invigorating sport. There is fun in virtually visiting the future, imagining the possibilities, foreseeing the challenges and then coming back to the present and creating a plan to work through. Consequently, when the plan works, it gives me a high.


As a coach, I am currently engaged in coaching a high-potential professional who is in the thick of execution to the point of fire-fighting. I am helping him step back, connect the dots and consolidate his learning. With the new learning, I am asking him to revise his plans. In the heat of execution, he often forgets to communicate to the stakeholders leading to a certain perception. I am working with him to create his Communication Strategy. In short, I am helping him with the elements of planning.

If you are interested in planning your career, you can sign me up as a Career Coach. You can contact me at [email protected] or go to the Services tab on my website and sign up.

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