Announcing your plans is a good way to hear god laugh

David Milch

In doing planning for a large project it soon becomes clear that there is a distinct need for alternative paths to success. This is particularly true with respect to highly risky aspects of the project. Having a backup plan is not the first thing you do, and it shouldn’t be, but it should probably be the second thing. Instead, it seems to be missing most of the time. We seem to be entirely focused on the primary plan without much attention to what happens if something goes wrong.

And even, if circumstances required, a contingency plan for his contingency plan’s contingency plan.

―Frank Beddor


Unknown-2One of the keys to using a backup plan effectively is that it allows your primary plan to be more aggressive. Knowing that a viable alternative is available allows a more expansive primary plan to be envisioned. Presently the sort of planning that yields a single path forward produces risk adverse objectives. This produces the state of affairs we see today. Plans are generally too short-term focused and contain relatively little risk. Having contingency plans to fall back upon would allow a much greater amount of risk to be absorbed in the primary plan.


Redundancy is my favorite business strategy.

Amit Kalantri


Other areas of endeavor benefit from back up planning and their utilization. Having a single primary plan is a common way to fail. One can draw upon analogies in numerical methods and sports to see even better ways of adopting contingency as an adaptive strategy. The key is to have multiple approaches to attacking problems, and at least one failsafe approach as the ultimate fallback.

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.

Albert Einstein 

In the numerical method arena, adaptive methods have been transformative in computational physics. Consider hyperbolic PDE’s, once upon a time problems were solved with a single method either an oscillatory high-order method, or a very dissipative (but very safe, i.e., the backup plan) low-order method. Neither approach worked well enough. Adaptive methods were developed to blend the high-order methods together with the dissipative low-order methods. The key is to have a image020principle by which to combine them. The principle is use the high-order when the situation is safe and won’t produce oscillations, and fall back to the low-order method when danger ensues. Now multiple methods work well enough that people think that nothing more needs to be done (I don’t agree!). The same approach has worked well in other areas, and in my opinion could be employed far more broadly.


Change. Adapt. Bend so as not to be broken. Let opportunity guide your actions.

Wayne Gerard Trotman


NFL American football formation tacticsSports provide another way to look at adaptive approaches and planning. Some teams are exceptional in a single approach to playing the game, and fail when they come up against the perfect counter. Great teams can play multiple ways and can be effective with Plan A, Plan B, Plan C… They can attack and defend is a variety of ways. The best among them can switch between different approaches seamlessly either to adapt to an opponent, or to surprise or overwhelm an opponent. To execute well in a variety of ways requires immense effort and practice, but this is the price of excellence.


Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw


quote-always-have-a-backup-plan-mila-kunis-105861The key element in this thought process is the devotion to solve problems. The secondary element is the development of multiple solutions to problems. This requires the developer of the plans to not be over-committed to a single approach. Sometimes the biggest problem with a plan is the over-investment of those executing the plan in the single path to success.


Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.

Winston Churchill