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"Failing to fully prepare might resonate nothing more alarming than the human condition …"

No one has yet discovered a fully adequate replacement for a sincere lack of preparation. Google 'preparation' and you'll receive the sort of wisdom nobody really needs. You'll hear that "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and other equally vacuous advice. I'll excuse you if you come to believe that preparation is the universal key to success, the Midas Touch on wheels, and the one absolutely irreplaceable determiner. Preparation is clearly the key to every kingdom, except, of course, for all the ones where only a deeply sincere lack of preparation reigns. The difficulty arises when we realize that we cannot always predict when preparation will be key and when a sincere lack of preparation might better prepare. I'm noticing that many people carry a sort of civil engineering preparation philosophy. Why wouldn't one prepare before engaging in activities focused upon moving stuff through space and time? Many activities, though, can't qualify as amenable to civil engineering preparednesses. For those, some sort of non-preparation seems if not necessary, certainly justifiable.

My greatest shortcoming as a project manager was always my lack of prescience.
I couldn't foresee the future worth crap, and for the longest time, I hid this flickering flame beneath the biggest bushel basket I could find. As a planner, my employer expected a certain level of foresight from me. Certainly, when a project slid sideways, I could foresee that I'd be called in to explain why I hadn't foreseen that slide. The truth was always that I had not foreseen the impending slide and that I also could not fix that resulting difficulty which was already in the past by then. Of course, the sponsor had not foreseen the slide, either, but the sponsor could delegate his omniscience, which I was chartered to carry around for him.

Teams always feel most prescient when planning. I swear, give a team a blank white board and a few decks of brightly-colored Post-it® Notes, and they can foresee anything. The omniscient feeling lasts until reality disagrees with the consensus. The antidote, of course, would inevitably be another bout of planning, the purpose of which might have been nothing more novel than the systematic pumping back up of that earlier unwarranted feeling of omniscience. Once properly re-inflated, the team could reengage with the same certainty that served them so poorly before. This pattern seems to be the only really robust pattern in project work. Civil engineers might experience less disappointment than those of us assigned to move stuff without the grounding benefit of there actually being stuff involved. Idea-creating projects routinely violate the physical laws that steel and concrete always observe.

I still engage in preparation, but I now refer to it as a dance. I long ago lost the romantic notion that my efforts wouldn't leave me filling in huge last minute holes. I might even perform best when in extremis, struggling to compensate for some eleventh hour realization. My forecasting has, thankfully, not improved since the days when I thought I lacked a fundamental skill that everyone in my profession possessed, and I hid my most glaring shortcoming beneath that bushel basket everyone except me could readily see right through. I acknowledge now the inexorable pull planning possess and can even sometimes catch myself falling under its satisfying thrall. I try to stay on the toes of my feet, expecting some unexpected certain to surprise me however satisfied I feel with my plan. Failing to fully prepare might resonate nothing more alarming than the human condition, and certainly not an injunction to prepare to fail.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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