Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Quote of the day from Ike: "Plans are worthless, but planning is everything."

A while back, I listened to biochemist-turned-consultant Melanie Nelson's "Getting More Done" seminar; she introduced the quote to me from President Dwight D. Eisenhower that "Plans are worthless, but planning is everything." As an inveterate planner, that sentence has rolled around in my head until this morning, where I thought, "I wonder if that quote is accurate?" 

I am wildly happy to note that it indeed is accurate, and so I present to you President Eisenhower's speech* to the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference in November of 1957, with the key sentence: 
...Some years ago, there was a group in the staff college of which some of you may have heard, Leavenworth Staff College. This was before our entry into World War One, and in that course it was necessary to use a number of maps and the maps available to the course were of the Alsace-Lorraine area and the Champagne in France. But a group of "young Turks" came along who wanted to reform Leavenworth. They pointed out it was perfectly silly for the American Army to be using such maps which could after all be duplicated in other areas without too much cost--they would get some area maps where the American Army just might fight a battle. So they got, among other things, maps of the area of Leavenworth and of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and in succeeding years all the problems have been worked out on those maps. The point is, only about two years after that happened, we were fighting in Alsace-Lorraine and in the Champagne. 
I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of "emergency" is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning. 
So, the first thing you do is to take all the plans off the top shelf and throw them out the window and start once more. But if you haven't been planning you can't start to work, intelligently at least. 
That is the reason it is so important to plan, to keep yourselves steeped in the character of the problem that you may one day be called upon to solve--or to help to solve...
Good stuff.

*There is a wonderfully clear aspect to Ike's speech, something that seems to be lacking from modern speeches. Hard to say why there's a difference.  


  1. This actually is a very good statement and principle IMO and do not recall if I have ever heard before (even though read a Biography of Ike many years ago). I would apply the same reasoning to Gantt Charts as great to plan for doing necessary things but attempting to confine R&D Projects in discrete tasks of exact duration can be counterproductive.

  2. David Petraeus apparently implemented a similar strategy in what became known as the successful "surge" in the Iraq War. He realized that the training modules for the army were all too predictable so that they would almost never present novel or actual dangerous situations. He revamped the exercises to make sure there was the right blend of surprise and danger without things getting out of hand.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20