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Planning, Random Acts and Best Efforts

The active elements of planning involve starting, doing and adjusting. Without the proper application of each of these steps, any plan will certainly fail to meet the stated objective.

By Stephen T. Gerdel

There are many things that get in the way of doing what needs to be done. There are also several ways of doing things that create opportunities for other things to actually get in the way. We financial advisors are often placed in the position of identifying the many factors that, as they converge, create both obstacles (things in the way) and paths of escape (ways for things to get into).

It is the commonly held belief that we actually know what to do when a convergence of conflicts begins this all-too-frequent set of interactions. To cover our backsides we have devised names for such events, such as “market fluctuations,” “trend reversals,” “unforeseeable events” or the oft avoided, though brutally honest, “Oops!”

These after-the-fact explanations are best avoided by addressing their possibility at the very inception of a plan. The simple admission that the plan might not work may dilute confidence somewhat, but the inevitable glitch is at least subliminally suggested.

The active elements of planning involve starting, doing and adjusting. Without the proper application of each of these steps, any plan will certainly fail to meet the stated objective. Even with each of these effectively implemented, the opportunity for obstacles is ever present.

The start of a plan is of great importance. Some clients are more than confident of their abilities to direct their own path, only to find the most fundamental error has led them in the wrong direction. For example, take the guy who insists on spending hours and hours in research looking for a “dot-com” stock that will give his $3,200 pension rollout a 60% return.

Hours are wasted, weeks and months pass without investment earnings or objectives clearly defined. We know the best way to increase the investment by 60% is to save an additional $100 each month. But is that even considered? I dare say not. Sometimes it takes a professional.

Then there is the “doing” of the task. The “how-it-is-done” is of-ten just as important as the task itself.

Many years ago I stopped by a client’s house to find him standing in the front yard with his garden hose. The hose was turned on all the way, the nozzle focused to a thin hard stream that was pointed skyward. My client was a little frustrated because the spray was shooting only about 40 feet in the air.

I asked my friend, “Hey, what are you doing?” His reply was, “I’m watering my trees, but my hose won’t shoot high enough.” It was a genuine revelation to him that trees got their water through the roots in the ground, notthrough the leaves on the branches.

Sometimes people just don’t understand. What may seem to be creative, clever or innovative can be in fact little more than stupid. Nonetheless, it may be an honest attempt. Honest stupidity can actually be nobler than other alternatives. Sometimes it takes an honest professional.

Finally we must adjust for the effect of random acts. No controlling authority. No previous experience. Things that just happen. Things like crude oil prices. Or my vacation.

Although it wasn’t a three-hour tour, it was intended to be a four-hour drive. One hundred miles from home, and 125 miles from our destination, the adventure began.

My son’s girlfriend happened to notice a red light glowing on the dashboard of the car my brother was driving. The plan was for any car in the caravan experiencing trouble, or a certain need, to pull to the front of the line, take the lead and find a place to remedy the problem. The lead was taken as well as the first exit.

After a bit of investigation it was determined the alternator had failed. Unfortunately, the car was inadvertently turned off. The attempt to restart revealed the battery had lost its charge during the investigating process.

“OK. Get the jumper cables. Everyone might as well get out of the car. You’ll get too hot if you stay in.”

It has always amazed me how a rapid series of events can so dramatically alter a simple plan. Somehow the car was exited, the automatic lock button bumped, the doors closed, and the keys left in the ignition of a vehicle that would not even grunt.

Alone these events are not unusual, but sequenced together they became a story in themselves. One hundred miles from where anyone wanted to be we found ourselves stuck, unable to move a single foot forward in our well-laid plan.

This is the time for someone with a different perspective or unique skill to arrive on the scene. And so it happened. A young man towing a vintage automobile arrived in the parking lot where our dilemma had unfolded. He calmly approached our vehicle and quickly demonstrated how easily the locked car could be entered. In a matter of moments, the door was opened.

Our rescuer turned out to work in a bodyshop and was well versed in the art of unusual automotive manipulations. Sometimes it takes an expert.

We were able to get the car to a garage at 10 minutes before closing time, and the alternator was replaced for the customary $250 fee. The final leg of our journey was completed after a two-hour delay, but with no further complications.

We must understand that life just works like that. The plan is determined, the agenda established, the course laid, and the goal targeted. Then one little thing goes askew. Or a series of little things react in a chain of unexpected and unexplainable events that demand a new outcome.

It comes to mind that as we plan that we should perhaps also plan the undoing of our plan. Whether you want to call it disaster recovery, review, rebooting or just plain starting over, it is sometimes re-quired. If the un-doing of a plan were incorporated in the plan itself, one just might find a new level of confidence.

Around home I have used this method for years. Whenever something goes awry, the result is not what was desired or the entire system fails. I simply say, “Honey, that’s just the way I planned it.” With clients, a slightly different form might allow one to say, “We have seen this before. Here’s what we can do about it.” In either case one stands out as honest, professional, and cool. Then we fix it. But that’s another story.


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