Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Planning and Flexibility

The second season of Modern Family began with an episode called “The Old Wagon.”  In that episode, the family wagon starts to roll down a hill toward a cliff.  Instead of jumping in to hit the brakes, Phil jumps on the hood, spread eagle.  Exasperated, Claire shouts, “What’s the plan, Phil?!”  Ever since, when I’m about to do something galacticly stupid, I can expect to hear, “What’s the plan, Phil?”  [Editor’s note: To be clear, proper placement of this quote is while the act of stupidity is ongoing.  If the act is complete, then a more appropriate quote would be, “You’re killing me, Smalls!”  1000 points for correctly identifying the movie and character for that quote in the comments.]
There seems a fine line between planning and flexibility.  On the one hand, careful planning before any endeavor can increase the chances of success.  On the other hand, flexibility and allowing the plan to change with the situation similarly increases the chances of success.  Balancing the two is critically important.  Dwight Eisenhower summed that up nicely when he said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  That said, I’m not sure planning and flexibility belong on the same continuum.  After all, the opposite of flexibility is not planning.  The opposite of flexibility is rigidity.  While it is certainly more common to find rigidity paired with prior planning and flexibility paired with a lack thereof, flexibility and rigidity exist separate from the planning process (another article for another time: the balance between planning and flying by the seat of your pants, because there is such a thing as over-planning, but flying by the seat of your pants is rarely a good idea).
Way back in sixth grade, one of my best teachers ever, Mrs. Menees, used to tell us the importance of flexibility.  She would encourage us to adapt in our environment as it changed around us.  She was exceedingly patient, but she would not accept excuse, and she would not tolerate rigidity.  At the same time, she would never suggest that flexibility is an excuse for a lack of planning and thoughtful consideration.  The combination of flexibility and planning is powerful indeed, and is one of the great keys to success in any venture.  I should really track Mrs. Menees down and buy her a cheeseburger (as she used to do for us on occasion).  She likely has no idea how profoundly important that lesson was or how deeply I internalized it years later.  [Editor’s note: 1000 points to Mrs. Menees and also Ms. White/Mrs. Reddick for dealing with me in sixth grade.  1000 points also to the first person to get this message to them.]
I apply this to music ministry all the time.  I plan events carefully, considering the people involved (audience and musicians alike).  I think through the logistics as completely as I know how from preparation to execution to followup.  I seek input on the process and the events, and together with my own notes, I work to improve on the events in the future or let them go if they were ineffective.  Nevertheless, at all points in the process, I adapt to the environment as the plan plays out.  I continually evaluate the plan and modify it as needed to accommodate variables.  You might say I plan to be flexible.  Planning that way allows me to accommodate even more on the run when things get crazy, probably because like Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”


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