Planing for good luck
“What’s your plan?”
Dread. Is this the wrong time to admit I don’t have one? Will it end up with yet another diatribe about how one must plan, perhaps followed by some catchy memorable bit of advice like: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance!
“Oh, that’s lucky!”
Sigh. Is this the wrong time to try explaining the logic behind positive opportunism and emergent solutions?
I must admit, I have a strained relationship towards plans.
Make no mistake, planning is a valuable and dear friend to me. We often hang out but we don’t take each other to seriously. We both know our friendship is built upon exploring the possible, preparing the mind to see and project into a future that’s yet to be. It’s not at all built upon some grandiose idea of plotting the way to a certain tomorrow, creating a map for what’s to be.
I live in a world of options, of possibility and strange attractors. I look with scepticism towards those that seem to believe that a plan brings the world into being. That it would somehow wrap itself around such an artefact. I planned it, therefore it happened, is a fallacy of the mind in my world it’s post rationalisation and retrospective coherence galore. Chance brought me into contact with Donella Meadows work and made it clear that
“We can’t control systems or figure them out. But we can dance with them!”
Since then I better understood how I had been doing things. By dancing with the possible, not trying to force it into being.
Instead of detailed plans I put time into figuring out the properties of a more desired future, how does it feel? What’s significantly different about it? What would I notice about it if it was already here.
I visualize the future, not as a fixture but as a collection of ideas, feelings and relationships between parts. But I carry with me only a small set of things that should happen and their associated hows. Principle over plan. I’m more intimate with how my destination feels than where it’s actually located or how far it might be.
Why would one choose to go forth in such a way?
Because the world is a large and mysterious place, full of potential waiting to be tapped. But unlocking that potential, finding the pockets of good luck. Requires an open mind, not one focused already on “the right answer”. The plan tries to impose our will on the world, sometimes we’re lucky and it aligns with the grain of reality. All too often it goes counter to it causing friction and frayed ends.
Knowing my destination I'm free to at every point, at every decision chose to align myself with the sprawling mess that’s reality. I can go with the waves, or paddle against them.
It’s easy to think this would make me a victim, or happy accident, of circumstance. I believe neither is the case, at least to no bigger extent than those rigorously following their plans. I just prefer to work with the world as it is, not as I’d like it to be. Gently prodding it but also trying my best to stay open to the possibilities it put in front of me. Don’t discard options because they’re not in the plan. Incorporate what brings you closer, in the sequence it appears naturally.
In coaching, group and organizational development I try to avoid a set agenda. Opting instead to listening to what’s happening, creating space for chance to come visit. Build muscle and focus to grab hold of opportunity when it presents itself, in whatever form it comes.
The often laughed at drunkard kept searching for his keys under the lamppost for the simple reason that that’s where it was easier to see. Although the keys were dropped in the shadows.
I think that’s apt for those often claiming their plans are failing them or not bringing them towards their goals. They’re drunkenly clinging on to the light, where everything can be seen clearly. Missing that what’s searched for is in the shadows waiting to be found.
Plans become like the lamppost. Something to hold onto, something that we believe illuminates the surroundings that define our problem. We forget that the lamppost was planted either by someone else or by our prior self without knowledge of our current predicament.
Worse yet, if someone raises the idea of discarding the lamppost heated arguments can ensue, we spent a lot on that lamppost. It’s a wonderful lamppost! WE MUST FOLLOW THE LAMPPOST THAT WAS PUT THERE BY WISER PEOPLE!
What happened to our goal? Our mission and purpose? We need to search not where there’s illumination but where we can be illuminated.
Luck often comes from hard work and practice. As it has been said many times “The more I practice, the luckier I get”, so practice. Practice seeing opportunity. Practice running experiments. Practice sensing and responding. Practice. Don’t plan.
Practice so when opportunity comes you can recognize it and grab it.
If you plan for anything, plan slack in. Leave space in your calendar, in your day, in your mind. That’s the only way you can detect the weak signal that’s the precursor to luck.
I make steady progress not by planning all the moves ahead, but by preparing to move into the opportunities that present themselves. I can’t tell you upfront what those might be, the shape they’ll take or the journey they’ll entail. But I know that the prepared mind with some space to act will be able to make progress.
Thus I agree with Potter Stewart “I know it when I see it.”
What will I do? I’ll know when opportunity presents itself. Until then, I’m working hard at staying sharp, and tuning in to what’s really going on.
Let’s keep searching the shadows of possibility.