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.”
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
If you don’t know the past, you can’t understand the present and plan properly for the future.”
“I wasn’t planning to lead, I was standing in the back and then everyone turned around.”
“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.