May 27, 2018

“If Everything Goes As Planned”

I ran into this the other day, someone was once again saying “If everything goes as planned.” We’ve all said it. But here’s the thing: it never does. So why don’t we spend just as much time learning what to do when things inevitably stray off our path as we do to create the plan in the first place?

Your best strategy when making a plan is to make contingency plans for the inevitable result that life will not unfold according to plan. Herewith are some thoughts on what you might want to do:

  • Expect the unexpected. I realize it is a cliché, but it remains true. I don’t mean you must be prepared for every eventuality, but you should expect to be surprised. Know that your plan will not unfold as you expect, so you can be not only prepared for the variances, but you can see them coming.
  • Schedule reassessments. If you know that changes to your plan are inevitable, it is best to seek them out. Place points in your plan to do this. Otherwise, you run the risk of speeding past the points when a course correction could have prevented disaster.
  • Solicit outside opinions. You, or your team, are not always the best judges of when course corrections are needed. Seek outside counsel.
  • Underpromise. I know that the phrase is usually “underpromise and overdeliver”, but frankly I think the “overdeliver” part is mostly wishful thinking. Given how most of us plan, we tend to think we can accomplish more than we really can, so if we underpromise (in our opinion at least) we are more likely to simply come in on target when things inevitably don’t go as planned.

There are likely more strategies that I haven’t thought of, but I bet you have. Please comment below if you think of something.


Photo by ER24 EMS, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.


  1. Perhaps your readers might appreciate the book Fooled by Randomness (2008) by Nassim Taleb. Taleb explains how our ignorance makes expecting the unexpected a pretty much impossible task. We can envision certain types of complications, of course. But Taleb warns that worst-case scenario planning gives planners and citizens a false sense of security. The contingencies we cannot conceive are often the most dangerous ones. An obvious example is the design of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant whose engineers’ worst-case thinking was way too optimistic.