You might have heard about the Chinese proverb that says, “When planning for a year, plant corn.  When planning for a decade, plant trees.  When planning for life, train and educate people.”  And part of that training should be developing a backup plan.

You may have made the best-laid plans, but what if something unexpected happens?  I can’t emphasize enough how important backup plans are.  You should always have a plan B and possibly a plan C and D.  The bigger the deal or event, the more detailed your backup plan should be.

As I was building my envelope manufacturing company, whenever we had a big event I would always ask everyone on my team, “What can go wrong?”  And just as important, “What is our backup plan?”

planningPlanning is time consuming and let’s face it, many people don’t like to do it.  But when you think about it, in business you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  That would be regarded as rash or unprofessional.  That’s why you need a plan and, equally important, a backup plan.

I’m a big believer in being prepared.  How many special events, meetings, weddings or businesses have been ruined because people didn’t have backup plans?  We live in an imperfect world.  If we don’t plan for something to go wrong, something inevitably will.

Maybe it’s an out-of town speaker who can’t make it to your event due to bad weather, traffic, or plane or car trouble.  Or your audio visuals go down, or there are transportation issues.  There are a myriad of things that can go haywire.

I recently attended a charity event in a rural area.  Ten minutes into the party, the lights went out.  All the electricity was off.  Bye bye catering.  That also meant the plumbing was inoperational, because it ran on an electric pump.  This was an evening event, so sunlight was not an option.  Guests stumbled in the dark to their cars, leaving all the silent auction items still artfully arranged on the tables.  The night was a total bust.  The rescheduled event six weeks later – at an area hotel – drew fewer than half the original guest list.  And raised half the anticipated funds.

People don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.  Did anyone give any thought to an emergency generator?

When I’m asked about important skills for leaders, it’s hard to beat a hungry fighter, but there are a lot of other traits that I look for, like planning skills.

Even if what you’re planning seems like a sure thing, it’s always good to consider the worst-case scenario.  For example, in the early 1950s, Hewlett Packard Company founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard needed an additional manufacturing plant to keep up with the company’s growth. However, they approached the venture with caution.  They chose a general design that, in the event of a company failure or hard times, could easily double as a supermarket space they could lease.

Planning, and backup planning, saves precious time because you are prepared to act if any unforeseen circumstances arise.  Rather than switching into panic mode, you can react with confidence.

When I am preparing to give a speech, I have some specific requirements, including a second microphone, spare batteries and a technician in the room.  I carry a ruler and tape so I can enlarge the lip on the lectern so my papers don’t scatter all over the floor.  I tape over the door latches so the noise doesn’t distract the audience if someone comes in late.  When you have worked hard to deliver a quality product, it hardly makes sense to ignore the details.  Plan ahead to prevent disasters.

Do you back up your computer files?  Have you ever been working on your computer for an hour or two on an important document, when suddenly a power surge wipes out your masterpiece?  You’ll quickly learn to back up frequently.

Your career is no place to wing it.  You need a career plan, and you need to review that plan on a regular basis.  From getting an education to developing skills to finding the first job, knowing what path you want to take requires forethought.  Assessing your career progress is part of your plan.  If you decide to quit your job, you’d better have a backup plan.   Or you can plan to be right back where you started.


Mackay’s Moral:  A plan isn’t a plan until you have a backup plan.

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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