By Tony Samson
CONTRARY TO the mantra of motivational speakers that you can always be what you want to be… if you wish it, and work for it hard enough, life usually hands out rejection slips. Plan B is the back-up strategy to provide an alternative route to a goal or to modify ambitions towards something completely different, and more attainable. Often, the “best case” scenario miscarries. Plan B is supposed to get you somewhere else, without changing your wardrobe.
Budgets supposed to quantify targets and corporate resources needed for these are not the fixed numbers they seem to be. When the second quarter starts to look fuzzy, strategists declare that these budget numbers “are not cast in stone” — they can be fudged and squeezed in the mid-year revisions — let’s be more realistic.
Adjustments are premised on the belief that we live in an age of change. All types of external factors (they’re called disruptions) conspire to prevent the fulfillment of Plan A, including changes in technology and workable business models. The ineptness of management (especially the one presenting) is seldom cited as the reason for missing revenue goals, sometimes by a few zeroes and the addition of parentheses.
That’s when Plan B is presented in the last slide: change the business model. What about the presenter?
Corporate events accommodate back-up plans. When featured speakers in a program cancel out at the last minute, somebody (never of a higher rank) is sent out to fill in for the original crowd-drawer. (He was in the chorus line of a failed musical.)
This substitution occurs more often than organizers like to admit. It is safe to assume that the keynote speaker or lead in a play can be replaced at the last minute. Jean Valjean will be played by the props man in this performance.
There are times when parallel plans work simultaneously and in synch with each other. Politicians, and companies too, employ two sets of PR groups. The A team is involved in writing speeches, meeting with media as the spokesmen, and communicating the party’s platform. Another group, Team B, is involved in covert operations including killing stories, slinging mud at critics and adversaries, and spreading disinformation in social media. Since these two groups require different skills and value systems, they are kept apart from each other. Team B usually gets the lion’s share of the campaign budget. And the funds do not always reach the intended recipients.
Politicians use Plan B for damage control. But with its binary result, which is either winning or losing, seldom do candidates, very high in self-esteem, ever consider the latter, no matter what the surveys say. Do they even have a concession speech at hand?
In the excellent Korean movie, Parasite (2019) where a squatter family has taken over the service support of a counterpart wealthy family (as English tutor, art therapist, housekeeper, and driver) they seemed to have hit the jackpot. They bask in champagne and caviar at the mansion when the wealthy family goes out camping. When things go awry with the threat of being exposed by the previous housekeeper, they escape to their flooded home and meditate on their fate — What is the plan now? The father muses that it is best to have no plan at all, as things never turn out the way they should. Having no plan is more flexible and less disappointing.
There are goals we set for ourselves which subsequently turn out to be unreachable. A dream job goes to somebody much younger. The woman of our dreams turns out to be a man. (Which toilet did he use?) Having a Plan B from the start is like signing a pre-nuptial agreement. One is too ready for possible failure.
The goal shouldn’t be “all or nothing. There must be something in between.
Still, the reason why certain circus acts are so successful is their seeming alacrity to take high risks. The trapeze artist who works without a safety net or harness is considered a more skillful performer since he has no Plan B. The same is true of the exposed girl in the knife-thrower’s act. A mistake leads to Plan C, for cremation.
Anyway, plans are just road maps to a place. There are other destinations to try… or avoid.
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.