The Brutal Reality and Backup Plans 

Life changes. Fast.  

Meeting canceled. Child sick. Stomach bug. Flat tire. Multi-million-dollar windfall. How come that last one never happens?! 

Good to Great author Jim Collins teaches the Stockdale Paradox: confront the brutal reality facing you or your company, but never lose faith that, in the end, you will prevail. This is true for each of us every day. 

We are advised when life hands us lemons to make lemonade. But if we don’t have sugar, a few kitchen tools, and the time and presence of mind to realize that we can now make lemonade, we just see lemons. Regarding life’s curve balls, we can bury our heads in the sand and play the victim, or we can anticipate where things may go wrong and prepare (reasonably) just in case. Let’s talk about “just in case”… 

Don’t Go Overboard

Preparing contingencies can be a slippery slope. Remember that “planning” is not the same thing as “doing”, although “planning” often looks like “doing”. The point of preparing is to retain some control if the situation goes in an unexpected direction. Overpreparing is just as out of control as not preparing and reacting. Why? Overpreparing locks us into a way of thinking and acting that may not be consistent with actual changes in our situation. We need to be prepared for contingencies, but not locked into acting in only one of two or three ways. 


Daily to-do lists rarely work anymore. The world changes too quickly, and the best-laid plans fall apart. Instead of a daily to-do list, I advocate for the Getting Things Done model of defining desired outcomes and associated next actions. Meeting canceled? Cool! Free time to work on something on my “master list”. Flat tire? Cool! I know all my commitments and what will die if it doesn’t get addressed while I’m at the tire store. When we have options, it’s easier to confidently pivot to something new when the unexpected happens. 


Post-mortem: what went wrong, what can we learn from that for the future, what could we do differently, and what still needs any attention? 

Pre-mortem: what could go wrong, what would we do about that, and how can we build guards against that into our work?

We can’t anticipate every eventuality, but we can usually get and prepare for the big stuff. 


If our time is overscheduled and our resources are overcommitted, it’s nearly impossible for us to do anything except react. Simple reaction is a very bad place from which to operate. Flexibility is critical to sanity and good decisions. Have enough slack to respond rather than react, especially when good opportunities present themselves. 

Want to be more in control when things change and feel out of control? Prepare (but don’t go overboard), keep options open and available, anticipate landmines, and leave some slack. 

Don’t be afraid of the brutal reality of life changing constantly. Be reasonably prepared and confident that you will prevail. 

“The only thing that is constant is change.” 



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Picture of Craig A. Escamilla
Craig A. Escamilla
Craig Escamilla helps you find solutions before problems exist. With fifteen years of consulting, teaching, and senior management experience, Craig brings a wealth of practical expertise to helping others work on rather than in their businesses.

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