Plan For Failure

“I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.”

General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis

We all strive for victory.  Each one of us hates to lose.  After all, it is essential for us to succeed in our daily lives.  We are obviously not living life to fail.  But, fail we will.

As important as it is to plan for victory, it is just as important to plan for failure.  Every ‘battle plan’ should consider all contingencies.  But, victory, of course, hangs on the details, and behind those details are hidden the pitfalls that can spell disaster and defeat.  We often take our eye off the potential negatives and ultimately find ourselves facing the unexpected.  This can easily be avoided.

Last week, we again saw another data breach hitting Anthem Blue Cross.  And, again, many experts are saying that this ‘disastrous’ data breach was avoidable.  When I first heard about it, my first thought was how something like this could happen again.  Haven’t these major organizations learned from other data breaches, such as to Michaels Stores, Home Depot, Kmart and ebay?  Aren’t major corporations taking steps to prevent these kinds of disasters from happening to them?  I can understand maybe not recognizing the unknown, but I cannot accept these companies blatantly ignoring what is going on around them, and to their peers in various corporate circles.  Again, planning for failure is just as important as planning for success.

In a recent blog post on The Military Leader, entitled 5 Questions That Can Save You From Disaster, author Drew Steadman discusses how failure can be avoided by not getting caught off guard by things that could have been anticipated.  As he states in his article, “A few moments of reflection can cue you in to the key indicators. And asking hard questions will force you and your team to acknowledge the situation you face.”  But, what I take away from Drew’s article is that you cannot wait for things to happen, or circumstances to change, before putting into place a plan that could work to avoid failure.  It is important to be quite aware of the peripheral things, because failure or victory are contingent on how (or if) you recognize and react to them.

One thing that I am certain of is that there will be a lot of uncertainty when planning for any outcome.  In essence, failures and miscues can be avoided by taking action based on our anticipation of the known’s and the unknowns.  And, doesn’t that sound familiar:

Recommended Reading: “The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld

Part 1: Three Reporters

Part 2: The Known and the Unknown

Part 3: A Failure of Imagination

Part 4: Absence of Evidence Isn’t Evidence of Absence

As my youngest daughter, Kassandra, when she hears something so profound, says, “what does that even mean?”  When Donald Rumsfeld first uttered this statement during a press breifing in February 2002 about the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups, he was making a point that there are various levels of certainty and uncertainty based on our knowledge of the facts as we know them, and the facts that aren’t yet clear. [View video of Donald Rumsfeld’s comments HERE]

To better define this, I found an article on SmartOrg by Don Creswell that defined the 3 Basic Sources of Risk and Uncertainty, which came out of a presentation by Kelvin Stott.

My take:

  • We must remain cognizant of those things that we know, while not discounting the possibilities that we think aren’t likely to happen.
  • We need to open more widely the avenues of communication, encouraging everyone to say something if they know something; share knowledge.  Nobody can assume the other knows what they know, nor can they think the information isn’t important.
  • Be Inquisitive and curious.  Ask questions and challenge the status quo.
  • We need to use our imagination, as well as look at the intelligence that is available, to make the best decision possible at the time.

Bottom line: Think outside the box, and don’t ignore the obvious.

“Failure is in a sense the highway to success, as each discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true.”

John Keats (1795-1821) British Poet

In the military, disasters could be due to bad planning, bad execution, bad weather, general lack of skill or ability, the failure of a new piece of military technology, a major blunder, a brilliant move on the part of the enemy, or simply the unexpected presence of an overwhelming enemy force.  But, what bothers me is when defeat and failure occur as a result of a known and preventable cause.  There are many military disasters throughout history that you can spend hours researching and realizing that they could have been avoided.

Recommended Reading: The Five Biggest Disasters in American Military History

I’m not suggesting that we are always going to be perfect.  What I am saying is that paying attention to certain details can make the difference between success and failure.  Being aware and prepared, innovative and imaginative, proactive and intuitive, can all make a big difference.

“When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans, and set sail once more toward your coveted goal.”

Napoleon Hill (1883-1970) American speaker and motivational writer

As you look around at the people and organizations who are facing critical issues, problems, and crisis,[i] you should view those situations as instructive and constructive. They should, for you, act as lessons learned.[ii]  We can learn as much from other people’s failures, as we can from our own.  Try to recognize what took that person or organization into the direction of failure, and plan to do the things necessary to avoid them happening to you or your organization.

Don’t be smug thinking that these things cannot happen to you, or that they are rare or isolated incidents.[iii]  And, don’t be arrogant in the thought that these things can’t happen to you … Or, that ‘things just happen.’[iv]  Don’t let things happen because you failed to prepare, or you grew over-confident with success. Plan for failure.[v]  Don’t fall to complacency or laziness.

Twitter Share Button

Inspired by five consecutive Tweets (#5Star #5Tweet) I posted on Friday, February 13, 2015:
[i]     Tweet 1 of 5
[ii]    Tweet 2 of 5
[iii]   Tweet 3 of 5
[iv]   Tweet 4 of 5
[v]    Tweet 5 of 5

One Response to “Plan For Failure”

  1. One of two failures that is preventable is that of a failed holistic approach on the part of leaders when dealing with the human side of leading or human needs, the full extent of which is rarely even taken into account by leaders.
    Resolution of both Soldier’s problems and life issues are human needs. Often, it’s overlooked by leaders because they’re unaware of the extent of their duties, simply neglect addressing the problem, thinking the Soldier is responsible, and lastly, concern that addressing the problem will bring negative attention to the unit and out of poor leadership the leader will distance themselves in an attempt to let the Soldier fail in hopes of not being involved and having the higher Command focus solely on the Soldier. This is selfish and fool hearted. Senior leaders of sound character will see right through that leader as well as their selfish intent and failure to take care of Soldiers. And still yet, we have seen this more than a few times at all levels of our Army. We still fail our Soldiers.
    Over the past few years I’ve noticed many leaders, but not all, becoming “idle” when it comes to dealing with diffiuclt human problems that goes along with leading Soldiers. More specifically in the last 2 years I’ve seen this. There seems to be a lack of instestinal fortitude to “step up to the plate” for fear of looking bad by the higher Commanders.

    The second failure has been a slow and chronic problem that has been building for a few years: Political officails meddling with the process of how we develop warfighters. From basic IET/OSUT training through to rifle battalions.

    “There is much to military training that seems childish, stultifying, and even brutal. But one essential part of breaking men into military life is the removal of misfits – and in the service a man is a misfit who cannot obey orders, any orders, and who cannot stand immense and searing mental and physical pressure”. ~ T. R Fehrenbach.

    Now, the term “misfit” is a relatively loose one and includes individuals whom have an “entitled” view or perspective because they will think of “self” first before those to their left and right. How will they follow orders efficiently when their mindset is on themselves? This is an issue that develops from society and how children are raised by their parents.

    Additionally, the “entitled” personality must be broken down and removed before they can be true Soldiers. There are two initial ingredients required for forging Soldiers: “Searing mental and physical pressure”, as described in the above quote. When developing Soldiers these two forms of pressure are human needs. Albeit they are harsh needs, it is still required nonetheless to make them strong physically and mentally. What they face when arms are taken up in war will be far more challenging physically and mentally. That being said, we as an Army have mostly removed these two forms of pressure during basic training, again, due to political correctness and pressure dubbing these physical and mental pressures as “maltreatment” and “inhuman”. On the contrary, when Soldiers are “corrected” for not working together or keeping track of the actions of one another, they start checking each other more often because they do not want to be victim of harsh physical, yet not inhuman, corrective training. This is the first building block of change within the character of an IET Soldier that starts to put aside “self” and adjusts their individual perspective into one of looking out for their brothers. In so doing, each Soldier looks out for one another and the welfare of the group as a “whole”. These two forms of pressure will not kill them. It’s also the first stages of cohesion that will allow them to continue to unconsciously check one another a year or so from now when they may be operating in a conflict.
    Many of my peers whom served as Drill Instructors have all said that their hands were tied when developing IET Soldiers with regard to physical and mental pressure in the form of corrective training for Soldiers not working together. They simply must follow orders and now we as an Army are at risk of creating weak Soldiers. This is a problem that can only be fixed by higher Army Command Leaders having the intestinal fortitude to turn a cold shoulder to political correctness and ideology and allow Soldiers to be forged with physical and mental pressure.

    “-the liberal society, in it’s heart, wants not only domination of the military, but acquiescence of the military to the liberal view of life. – But acquiescence society may not have, if it wants an army worth a damn. By the very nature of it’s mission, the military must maintain an illiberal view of life and the world. Society’s purpose is to live; the military’s is to stand ready, if need be, to die. Soldiers are rarely fit to rule – but they must be fit to fight.” ~ T. R. Farenbach

    War will present itself and with it the need to kill. Only hardened men can kill. Good Soldiers will also die. It’s not a “casual” event. It’s very violent, filthy and dirty. Perhaps even barbaric. Raw humanity will start to show through, both in the form of the violence that is required to kill to protect one another and the outer edges of the human soul that can be seen when Soldiers stand together in this violence and completely give of themselves to the welfare of one another.

    In closing, all leaders are human and have faults or short comings. I’m not perfect. After over 19 years as an Infantryman in active duty, there are still areas in my life that I need to improve upon. However, simply because there are no visible bench marks within my areas of needed improvement does not mean that I’ve given up or quit.
    Political organizations need to back off, leaders need to get their intestinal fortitude back, take care of your Soldiers regardless of whomever sees or how high in the chain they perform their duties and take care of your Soldiers. Build on America’s Army and other military services. We are failing and recognition of that is the only way that we can begin to fix it.
    Very few rarely see the sacrifice leaders make in losing sleep, food, time with family. They stand quietly in the shadows and the machine runs smooth. Even when those of your brothers that stand to your left and right fight with you and die, at the end of this day, if no one died from your actions or lack of action on your part, then you’ve led well. Because those that you lead will die and perhaps you the leader as well, will fall. It’s simply the nature of war. …Leaders care for Soldiers. Period. No recognition, no fluff on your OER/NCOER bullets. It’s not about you or your career.

    SFC David Hickman
    HQ First Army
    Rock Island Arsenal


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