the 6 Ps

“Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance”

I had a pleasant conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop yesterday about America, being American, the U.S. military, Lake Sidney Lanier, shortcuts, contracts, retirement, in-laws and planning. This fellow peppered his captivating stories with funny sayings, a healthy dose of similes and a number of instructive, memorable phrases.

One he was particularly fond of came to him via a Drill Sergeant in the U.S. Army: “Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” His version had 7Ps, but the seventh word I’ve omitted doesn’t add anything to the meaning, just a little color. I can attest to the veracity of this statement as a small business owner, and you’ve no doubt had experiences where sufficient planning led to a favorable outcome and others where insufficient planning led to a less than spectacular performance.

Planning prepares you well for for the expected, and gives you the chance to think through how you would handle the unlikely, yet possible eventualities. One of the elements I love most about flying is the need for both planning and the occasional adjustments to the plan when the weather shifts unexpectedly. The weather is dynamic and every good pilot must make judgment calls based on the available information (of which there is typically plenty) when the weather changes, especially for the worse.

On a recent trip Michigan I met unexpected weather that moved in quickly over the local area of my final destination while I was flying northward through clear skies. Low clouds and freezing temperatures aloft caused me to question my plan for a visual approach into a small field just north of Detroit, so I circled for a bit in the clear air just south, in northern Ohio. After reviewing the weather, I decided it would be safe to make an approach and then filed an instrument flight plan while airborne. The instrument approach was uneventful (how I like them) and the landing was smooth, despite the winds that ushered in the weather earlier than expected.

Planning provides you with a cushion – in space and time – that makes handling the unexpected less stressful. It is much better to meet chaos from order, rather than chaos with chaos, as would be the case if you were tumbling through a project, a presentation or a life, without some type of prior planning.

Whether you’ve thought about it this way or not, one of your central responsibilities in life is to bring order out of chaos. It is one of the deepest impulses universal to our species. We bring order out of chaos, we transmute matter from one form into another, as is the case with our digestive processes and we have unique distinction among all other creatures great and small that walk, swim, crawl or slither on the earth of giving thought to the future. It’s partly what separates us from the animals and it is also what differentiates those who make use of the shadows of the future cast on the present moment from those who fear and hide from the shadows.

If you take time to consider the future, organize your thoughts into a coherent plan about how to handle the factors you foresee, based on your field of responsibility. I have to do this constantly in my businesses and it is the source of much of the thrill I experience in management. What you see coming down the pike gives you a head’s up, allowing you to marshall whatever resources you have at your disposal in relation to the need at hand.

If you guess correctly, you move ahead with efficiency and grace. If not, you learn from your mistakes.

Either way you progress!

3 thoughts on “the 6 Ps

  1. Brad

    Timely! – thanks for the post. There is something reasuring about planning and being prepared, whether or not the circumstances play out the way we hoped. However, it’s an inspiring feeling to witness yourself or another handle a situation with grace and poetry.

    (and you’re right, the 7th p just adds color)


  2. Doug

    Managing a small business is all about planning,short term and long. One of the skills you hope to master is how to change your plans on a dime. I think the kiss of death in any business is to fall in love with your plan. It should be a means not an end.


  3. Isabelle

    I was just speaking with a colleague yesterday about the importance of planning and the impact that it could have on a given project. I’m looking forward to seeing the difference it can make and appreciate the focus that you have brought to it this morning.


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