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Act, don't get bogged down by plans

Michael Bloomberg (Mind Over Matter)
Filed on January 4, 2020 | Last updated on January 4, 2020 at 09.48 pm

People have a lousy record of predicting the future, and they aren't much better at planning it out. By all means, set high goals and dream big. But then get down to work.

Every December 31st, a time-honored tradition brings people of all backgrounds and faiths together: making New Year's resolutions that won't last. It happens in business and government all the time, too - and on a much larger scale.

Business owners and managers often think they need a long-term plan, sometimes because a consultant told them that. And politicians often set goals for many years or even decades after they're gone from public office - without detailing interim targets that the public can hold them accountable for achieving.

It's easy to make long-term resolutions, and there's a certain escapism that comes with it. Why roll up your sleeves and get down to work when you could be mapping out an exciting plan for incredible levels of future success? It's tempting to let your mind fast-forward to the finish line, but projecting to step one hundred can limit your ability to execute step one. Successful athletes don't focus on winning the championship - or even on winning the first game. They focus on preparation.

Issues like climate change and gun violence can't wait for decades-long timetables.

We need leaders who will attack the problems facing our nation as soon as they can, however they can. I refuse to wait for the perfect solution before making a move. The hardest challenges require action that begins today, not tomorrow - forget long term.

That's not to say there's no value in thinking ahead. My advice is to conduct the following exercise:

Think logically and deliberately about what you'd like to do. Work out all the steps of the process - the entire what, when, where, why, and how. When you know it cold, write it out on a piece of paper. The act of writing forces you to confront questions you hadn't before. Address those things that you forgot, ignored, underestimated, or glossed over in your mind. Make sure your written description follows, from beginning to end, a logical, complete, doable path.

Then tear up the paper - and get to work.

It's a good exercise in planning while also being a good reminder about what matters most. Real life doesn't follow big, carefully laid plans. Setbacks happen.

Surprises arise. Small opportunities lead to unforeseen bigger ones. Conditions and opportunities change in ways we can't anticipate - and that can change the direction of our work, and how we define success. You'll inevitably face problems different from the ones you anticipated. Sometimes you'll have to zig when the business plan says zag. Plans are only as useful as your willingness to toss them aside.

A reporter once asked me what I thought Bloomberg had failed at, as opposed to the successes that have allowed us to grow. I gave it some thought, then answered: "Nothing. But what we accomplished wasn't always what we set out to do." A failure leads to a new insight or idea that leads to new products and customers. We're flexible and adaptable. If we had stuck to a rigid plan, we might not be as big or as successful today.

Don't let planning get in the way of doing. I once saw the classic cart-before-the-horse error during a presentation by a potential Bloomberg competitor. His slides had great-looking mock-ups of the company's future shipping department, showing conveyor belts shipping out thousands of the units. The problem? They hadn't yet built the first unit. And they never did.

I've always focused on what's next, not what's way down the road. And I have always believed in playing as many hands as possible, as intelligently as I can - and working like crazy today, and getting up and doing it again tomorrow.

People have a lousy record of predicting the future, and they aren't much better at planning it out. By all means, set high goals and dream big. But then get down to work, and as the months and years pass, be ready to change course. The path to success is not a straight line, and the destination may be a place you haven't imagined. The best resolution is to get started on the journey now - and to charge ahead with deliberate speed.

Michael Bloomberg is three-term mayor of New York City and 2020 candidate for President of the United States

Source: LinkedIn


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