#1682 First Contact with the Enemy

No Plan Survives It

In our last couple +1s, we explored a couple of military aphorisms that shaped Admiral William H. McRaven's leadership career.

We started with #1: “Death Before Dishonor.”

Then we chatted about #3: “When in Command, Command.”

Today I want to chat about leadership axiom #10: “No Plan Survives First Contact with the Enemy.”

Let’s get straight to work.

In The Wisdom of the Bullfrog, McRaven tells us: “‘What do you need to know as an officer? What is the most important thing you should consider when developing a plan? What is the most fundamental aspect of war strategy, operations, or tactics?’

Stolfi reached for his last viewgraph, turned off the lights, and before I could answer, he read the quote from Moltke the Elder. It said, ‘No plan of operations reaches with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main force.’

‘In other words,’ Stolfi said, ‘always have a Plan B. A contingency plan. A backup plan. Because once you encounter the enemy, no plan survives first contact.’”

He continues by saying: “Over the course of the next two years, with Dr. Russel Stolfi as my faculty advisor, I wrote my postgraduate thesis, entitled The Theory of Special Operations. As I researched ten famous missions in special operations history, it was clear to me that Moltke’s old axiom stood the test of time. It was not something I would soon forget.”

That’s from chapter/axiom #10: “No Plan Survives First Contact with the Enemy.”

Each chapter’s wisdom is preceded by a quote. This chapter’s quote is from Taylor Swift. She echoes the great military axiom with her own: “Just because you made a good plan doesn’t mean that’s what’s gonna happen.”

The great boxer Mike Tyson said the same thing. He tells us: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Astronaut Chris Hadfield echoes this wisdom as well. In his great book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, he tells us: “It’s puzzling to me that so many self-help gurus urge people to visualize victory, and stop there. Some even insist that if you wish for good things long enough and hard enough, you’ll get them—and, conversely, that if you focus on the negative, you actually invite bad things to happen. Why make yourself miserable worrying? Why waste time getting ready for disasters that may never happen?

Anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying: it’s productive. ... My optimism and confidence come not from feeling I’m luckier than other mortals, and they sure don’t come from visualizing victory. They’re the result of a lifetime spent visualizing defeat and figuring out how to prevent it. Like most astronauts, I’m pretty sure that I can deal with what life throws at me because I’ve thought about what to do if things go wrong, as well as right. That’s the power of negative thinking.”

I repeat the most fundamental aspect of strategy: No plan survives first contact with reality.

That’s Today’s +1.

Let’s keep that wisdom in mind as we face the INEVITABLE obstacles to our well-planned day…


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