TBT: Everybody has a plan until…

For throwback Thursday we’re re-upping an article from December 8, 2018:

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 at night 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.

15 thoughts on “TBT: Everybody has a plan until…”

  1. One of the most interesting articles I have read this year looks at preparing and planning for bushfires. Although the article focuses on individuals, I suspect that it applies to teams as well:

    “Time and time again, her research shows that people underestimate the risk of fires, they overestimate how prepared they are, and they overestimate what that preparedness will allow them to do.”

    “One of the big mistakes many people make is they don’t plan for things not going to plan, says Dr Every.”

    Again, the article is focused on individuals, but there is some pretty powerful observations provided. It can be found at https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2020-10-28/how-to-plan-and-prepare-your-brain-for-bushfires/12796906.

  2. If you don’t plan for something to go wrong, you are not planning well at all.

    Assume nothing and expect anything.

    “Be Prepared” the Boy Scout Motto.

  3. In the early days of forest fires, they were considered simply and solely as acts of God, against which any oppositions hopeless and any attempt to control them not merely hopeless but childish. It was assumed that they came in the natural order of things, as inevitably as the seasons or the rising or setting of the sun.

    Today, we understand that forest fires are wholly within the control of man.
    Gifford Pinchot, The fight for Conservation speech, 1910

  4. Another commonality on tragedy fires that isn’t listed in your Incident Response Pocket Guide is that the fire behavior on these fires was not predicted or expected in time to get out of the way.

  5. “If you think you need 10 smoke jumpers, order 12, and don’t count on your helicopter sticking around. Two will twist their ankles when they land and your helicopter will be tied up medivacking the wounded” Me, after just that happened on initial attack of the Morphine fire on the Heppner Ranger District in Eastern Oregon, 1985. The scab flats are full of watermelon size rocks. My apology to any jumpers reading this.

  6. It is important to know that you are going to get slapped in the mouth. What do you do next? Reacting appropriately is how we deal with the dynamic situations encountered in wildfire. I like the Marine Corps motto expressed by Clint Eastwood as Gunny Highway in the movie Heartbreak Ridge.

    “You’re Marines now. You adapt. You overcome. You improvise.”

  7. I have been collecting motivational quotes for a committee I am involved with. This is a phenomenal collection!

    While your obvious intent is to guide planning for wildfire surpression, the theme applies to just about any endeavor. The quotations come from a variety of sources and are applicable to a wide variety of planning. I am saving the entire article.

    Thank you, Bill.


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