How Contingency Plans Cause People to Perform Worse and Try Less

Will Smith said, “There is no reason to have plan “B” because it distracts from plan “A”.

Jihae Shin and Katherine Milkman, from Wharton School research found that merely thinking about a backup plan caused people to perform worse and try less.

The road not taken:

The road not taken is delightfully seductive. But the path you chose has the disappointments of the real world.

Your real spouse is messier than an imagined partner.

Real decisions are soiled with reality.

The path you didn’t choose is a fantasy without disappointments.

Develop and explore three or four options before choosing plan A. Make a decision. Nuke alternatives. Move forward wholeheartedly.

Once you’ve made a decision, options dilute commitment.

5 dangers of plan B:

  1. Distraction.
  2. Uncertainty.
  3. Second guessing.
  4. Drained energy.
  5. Paralyzed progress.

Perhaps the worst danger in decision-making is using fantasies – the road not taken – to judge realities.

What about contingency plans:

The question isn’t “Will something unexpected happen, it’s when.” Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

#1. A leader’s contingency plan is to adapt as you go, not before you begin.

Prepare to adapt. Give yourselves permission to address shortfalls and disappointments quickly and openly. “If we fall 5% below our goal, the team will reconvene immediately.”

#2. The Wharton team suggests outsourcing contingency planning to another team within your organization.

The search for certainty is a catastrophic waste of time. Find enough confidence for the next step and take it. Repeat.

How might leaders navigate tensions between wholehearted commitment to one plan and developing contingency plans?

Don’t miss the followup to this post: 5 WAYS TO TEACH PEOPLE HOW TO FAIL RESPONSIBLY