Everybody has a plan until…

espn announcers While I was watching the Clemson vs. Mississippi State University basketball game today on ESPN2 I didn’t expect to hear words of wisdom or a pithy quote. One of the announcers was Chris Spatola, a former basketball player for Army West Point who is also a veteran.  After only 8 minutes into the game MSU had thrown in “tons of three-pointers.” As they talked about how Clemson had hoped to limit MSU’s three-pointers, Mr. Spatola said,

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

The other announcer, Jon Sciambi, recognized the quote as being from Mike Tyson who had been asked by a reporter whether he was worried about Evander Holyfield and the fight plan he had bragged about.

After Mr. Spatola did an impression of Mr. Tyson, Mr. Sciambi said, “I am going to enjoy working with Chris Spatola.”

As a Planning Section Chief on Incident Management Teams, of course I appreciate the necessity of planning. And I think Mr. Tyson’s quote while it at first seems crude and simplistic, actually is worth thinking about and can have multiple messages. The most obvious is that yes, you have a plan, but you encounter difficulties and quickly realize that you’re going to need a Plan B. If you prepared for an alternate strategy, you might succeed after all. If not, well, thanks for playing and here is your Participation Trophy.

Another interpretation is that after encountering unexpected problems, you don’t throw in the towel, but you have the guts and perseverance to keep fighting and working through the complications, eventually achieving the goal and overcoming the odds stacked against you.

Helmuth Von Moltkex said:

No plan survives contact with the enemy.

Bob Robins told me about a good plan on a wildfire that was poorly briefed and executed. He was in one group of firefighters that was attempting to stop the spread of a fire by burning out along a road, working toward another group that started at the other end. The objective was to burn the vegetation between the road and the fire, removing the fuel. The fire would then be stopped in that area. When the two groups met, they were horrified to find that they had ignited opposite sides of the road, and they suddenly had a lot more fire to deal with.

General Norman Schwarzkopf directed the planning and strategy to kick the Iraqis out of Kuwait after they invaded the country in 1990. His plan was based on overwhelming force using strong infantry attacks supported by artillery and armor after bombing the crap out of them from the air for weeks. It worked. The ground fighting in Desert Storm was over within about 100 hours. Not long after, most of the U.S. troops returned home. I have latched on to his strategy when writing about using the concept of overwhelming force for the initial attack of new wildfires. It can often be successful, and then everybody goes home and prepares for the next one, not getting bogged down and tying up resources and taxpayer dollars in a months-long campaign.

Here are some other planning-related quotes. Do you have a favorite, or an example of a plan that worked? Or didn’t?

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
― Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
― Abraham Lincoln

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

If you don’t know the past, you can’t understand the present and plan properly for the future.”
― Chaim Potok, Davita’s Harp

“I wasn’t planning to lead, I was standing in the back and then everyone turned around.”
― Avery Hiebert

“No matter what the work you are doing, be always ready to drop it. And plan it, so as to be able to leave it.”
― Leo Tolstoy, The Journal of Leo Tolstoy

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
― Yogi Berra

*On December 8 Mississippi State beat Clemson, 82-71. They sank 19 three-point shots (63 percent), led by Lamar Peters who accounted for 9 of them.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

12 thoughts on “Everybody has a plan until…”

  1. Planning, preparation, and practice are what I have taught for years. That’s how you discover the plan won’t work as intended prior to the real event. My wife would say I am ready for anything, including a swiss army knife. It saved the day at a very fancy wedding when the caterers forgot a corkscrew.

  2. Over the last 25 years I’ve often had non-fire friends ask me what it is about wildland fire, why I’ve been involved and what’s the attraction. I always tell them it’s the no-BS people who work in fire. Rather than form a new committee or task force or study group, we have IMTs and it works like this: Look at the problem, visualize a solution, here’s Plan A, start on it now. Today. Meanwhile, get to work on Plan B, just in case, and carefully examine the situation to craft Plan C — just in case. Meanwhile Plan A is well under way. Total elapsed time 48 hours.
    Do something, and do it now, putting your experience and knowledge to work. Now. I am pretty sure that’s why agency non-fire people don’t much like us.

  3. As a long tome “ops chief” I always had a “Plan B” or as I sometimes called it “going to hell plan”. What was I going to do when everything was going to hell. I never considered sitting on your hands and doing nothing a very good option. I never remember writing things down; maybe a line on a map or a few words with a couple of the “Div Sups” but there was always a alternate plan.

  4. “No matter how thoroughly you plan, no matter how much you think you know, you’ve never thought of everything.”
    ― John Flanagan, The Royal Ranger

  5. In order to have a “fire fix”, we need a basic plan. Actually, the Forest Service has a pretty good one. It’s called the “National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy (NCWFMS).” A key element of the NCWFMS, produced in 2014, is achieving “resilient landscapes.” The overall strategy contains several guiding principles and core values, including “actively manage the land to make it more resilient to disturbance” and “wildland fire, as an essential ecological process and natural change agent, may be incorporated into the planning process and wildfire response.”

    Unfortunately, NCWFMS has gathered dust rather than being the intended tactical strategy for change. To be fair, there are examples of good things happening. But it is like so many individual successes rather than cohesive, corporate attainment. Simply put, the deployment of NCWFMS lacks national focus.

    Planning for fire management has never been a problem, in my view. The question is, do we have the willingness and ability to begin and sustain a long-term campaign that will eventually help create healthy, sustainable forests that are more resilient to disturbances — such as fire and a changing climate — so the linkage between environmental health and community stability can be more fully realized?

    Very respectfully,

    Michael T. Rains

  6. “ A good plan violently executed now is a helluva lot better than a perfect plan executed next week”. General George S Patton

  7. “Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.” –Sir John Harvey-Jones

  8. Plans make the gods laugh.
    = I don’t remember where I first heard it.

    You have to have a plan, but you better have a Plan B.
    – me


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