Home » Planning » These Things Are Just Always Wrong


If Musk is concerned about any of his multiple risky ventures, he isn’t letting on. At SXSW, Jonathan Nolan asked the billionaire if he tries to plan around failures based on his experience dealing with SpaceX and Tesla obstacles in the past. “I don’t really have a business plan,” Musk said at SXSW, noting that he hasn’t had a formal business plan since he launched Zip2, his first successful startup in 1995. “These things are just always wrong, so I didn’t bother with business plans after that.” cnbc.com, March 23, 2018, Elon Musk: Starting SpaceX and Tesla were ‘the dumbest things to do’

I always found that any effort that required lots of presentations and paperwork was often not something I wanted to work on. Even when approved, the project inevitably required all sorts of documents to be created to support some quality initiative or something else. These documents were inevitably “POTS,” Plans On the Shelf (a saying from my time at the Software Engineering Institute).

However, I always found that planning was useful. Or at least thinking about what I was going to do and the various what ifs if things turned out differently or if things went bad. Having thought about these possibilities meant that when they did occur, or something like them, it was almost always a relatively easy pivot to deal with the issues. In fact, I’ve been accused of “planning for failure” because I spent significant time thinking about what could go wrong and what we would do about it.

Most successful innovation projects seemed to start out with a lot of “let’s try this” where we then adapted and modified what we were doing based upon what happened next. Often, it was useful to take a breath and deep dive into what experiences others had had or what others were researching about that same space. We would then once again press on, possibly in a new direction, and see what we could make happen that would be useful.

So for me, planning was like a lot of other parts of any effort. We did a little of it when it was useful to do, but only as long as it was useful. We would come back to the plan and update it when again having a plan was useful, often as a form of communication. Producing something like a plan that would then sit on a shelf or sit in a quality controlled, standards based repository in a write-only form was what I tried to avoid. This was simply an expedient, as why spend time on an effort that adds little or no value to an effort? Keep in mind that in this day and age, there are armies of people whose only purpose in life is to ensure that these documents and data repositories exist. So if I find I can’t avoid creating one of these “POTS”, then at least I’m consoled that I’m supporting someone else’s livelihood.

Compare with “stop doing that” as a strategy

Are your planning documents adding value or would they add more value by not being done?

Thank you for sharing!

2 thoughts on “These Things Are Just Always Wrong

  1. Good insight
    I alwas was a fan of “Too much Optimism kills and too much planning is good for a decent sleep but not good for a successful project” So “How prcisesly do we want to go wrong before we note that his is a dead end.”?

    1. Bruce Benson says:

      Humorously, I had a boss who accused me of “sandbagging” because I kept hitting all my deadlines. I asked him “how many of my deadlines should I miss?” After a moment’s hesitation, he said “none.” You reminded me of that kind of disconnect between what people think and do with the great line: “How precisely do you want to go wrong …”

      Good comment.


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