in Business, Creativity, Motivation, Philosophy, Psychology

Plan Z – When Plans A through Y fail

“I was planning on my future as a homeless person. I had a really good spot picked out.” — Larry David

Some history buffs out there will ask: “Oh, is this a post on Hitler’s naval plans?”

No. No it isn’t.

Once I realized it was called “Plan Z” I thought about changing my post to “Ask Yourself: ‘What’s The Worst That Could happen?’ Then Plan For It”.

But then I thought: “Fuck it. Let’s do it anyway.”

Whenever you hear someone successful say things like: “I had no other choice but to drop out of school and chase my dream”, “I went all in”, or “I didn’t have a safety net”, you should be very careful.

These people are more often than not exceptions to the rule.

During World War II researchers conducted a study of damaged aircraft and recommended that the areas that showed the most damage be reinforced. However, the change had little to no impact on the amount of aircraft that survived.

The statistician Abraham Wald had a different perspective. He noted that the aircraft the researchers were studying had made it back despite being hit in those areas. Clearly the aircraft could take the punishment in those areas.

Since they didn’t have any casualties to study, Wald recommended they instead focus on reinforcing the areas that hadn’t been hit.

It was a clear case of survivorship bias.

Planning

Planning = All the things.

A story of how someone planned, tested, and iterated toward their success isn’t sexy or something we pay much attention to. Why? Because it just sounds like common sense.

Now, a story about a high school dropout who lived on the streets and came up with the next big social platform? That’s sexy.

What we don’t get to hear about are the millions who did the same thing but for one reason or another never made it back.

When we hear about successful people who made it despite not having any backup plan we should look at them like Wald looked at those planes. They were the exceptions, and they shouldn’t be the only cases we study.

When I started having problems with my balance I was more or less forced to stop with music production. I had to go on sick leave and then back to doing whatever work I could. Meanwhile, I suffered from panic attacks and difficulties to focus.

After some testing the doctors told me that I had a 25% deficiency on the right side of my balance system. While they couldn’t tell what had caused this the prognosis was good, but it could take months or years for the body to repair itself.

After a while I came to the realization that maybe I wasn’t going to be able to afford my apartment or much else since I wasn’t able to work full time and there was little the doctors could do about my condition.

I started making a “Plan Z”. I imagined the worst case scenario where I perhaps couldn’t work or do anything productive for months or perhaps even years before I recovered.

So I called my parents and told them that I’d been thinking about quitting my job, selling my apartment, and simply focusing on my health. Then I asked if I could move in with them in case it came to that. My mom said something that moved me to tears: “You are always welcome home.”

In parallel I’d started to help friends and people in music via mail, phone, and Skype. It started as something to do but slowly grew into something I could see myself doing for a living.

I was lucky, if I didn’t fully recover at least I could serve a purpose by doing that.

With “Plan Z” in place I felt secure enough to try things out.

I didn’t know whether Plans A through Y would work, but I didn’t have to worry about having everything ride on them.

I’m still not completely out of the woods. I still experience dizzy spells and can’t always count on being physically present when it comes to personal meetings.

Had this been 15–20 years ago I doubt that I’d be able to be of as much use. I count myself very fortunate to live in a time that allows for this amount of flexibility and communication. It’s also afforded me countless opportunities and connections with people that I’m tremendously grateful for.

I’m guessing that you have a goal or plan of your own, right? What little thing could do today that would take you one step in that direction? What “Plan Z” would give you the courage to venture just a little bit further to see if it’s viable?


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