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This Quite Literally Makes No Sense

Sayeth Condoleezza Rice:

"It's bad policy to speculate on what you'll do if a plan fails when you're trying to make a plan work."

At the hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as quoted in the Washington Post.


took me a few reads to get somewhere comprehensible but isn't there a pause between "plan fails" and "when you're"

ie why plan for or speculate on failure when trying to execute a plan?

Because you want to be able to adapt to failure, should it happen, to limit it or potentially even to reverse it. If you're not even thinking about what you might do if the plan fails, you're really in trouble if and when it does -- suddenly you have simultaneously deal with the results of the failure and try to figure out a response that meets larger strategic needs.

Could be a few ways of looking at it. First the word if. Are you starting a plan, not yet implemented. This could involve the sports psychology approach of their is no such thing as failure ie eliminating negatives.

Or does she mean if, as in if it has already failed.

Though I have to agree with Jamais. I tried to find some quotes this afternoon on cybernetics of decision making, but couldn't find them.

They went something like all decisions entail consequences.

The consequences set up a new series of parameters for assessment even if the decision gives the optimun outcome.

Very often the optimum outcome is not achieved and the original decision and less than optimim outcome have to be reassessed.

The failure should have already been built into the original plan for potential assessment and evaluation.

Seems a bit silly. The Pentagon had massive supercomuter capacity to run scenarios of wargames in nuclear conflict. All the options etc.

So why did they not explore all options in this specific.

Dam, now I wish I hadn't made that post having read it all.

Now I have to agree with Chung, at least understand that arguement.

The sentence does make literal sense, if that is what Condoleezza believes to be true.

In addition what level of definition Jamais ascibes to the word Plan.

If Condoleezza believes 'plan' does not have to include the premise of revaluation
in case of failure of it's original objectives, then it does make literal sense, but not effective strategic sense.

Also I suppose it also depends of what she means by bad policy, but that might be back to sports psychology and no such thing as failure. Wasn't she an ice skater (on thin ice?) or something similar

It's a ridiculous assertion on her part. It is tantamount to saying "it doesn't matter if we are wrong because we are 100% committed to this course of action." That's a nice philosophy for, say, a kamikaze pilot, but not for those responsible for national strategic thinking.

I take it no Senator replied:
"Yes, we've seen how well that attitude worked in Iraq"

Sadly it sometimes comes back to UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, "U turn if you want to, this lady's not for turning."
It seemed to set this agenda for ploughing on regardless of how wrong they were. Without any assessment of the decision making process

I think it does make sense. Think about it.

They have, after their own debate and discussions, come up with this plan. Now the task is to execute that plan as best as possible.

At some point is isn't useful to keep asking what happens if that plan, at the most basic level, fails. That kind of debate has already occured during the process of selecting this plan in the first place.

Maybe you disagree on the merits of the plan, which is fair enough. But its also fair for them to say this IS in fact our decision and we're going to focus on trying to make it work.

Ryan, the problem is that the conditions perceived during the planning process are rarely, if ever, the conditions that one finds in the midst of carrying out a plan. Good strategies, whether we're talking war, business, or personal development, always embrace contingencies. Not because one may doubt the efficacy of the plan, but because one recognizes the likelihood that changing conditions may make aspects of the plan useless or counterproductive; good strategists always include ways to deal with failure.

Exactly. In fact, if a mistake was made, refusing to recognize that the plan is in fact wrong and choosing some other course of action is guaranteed to be disastrous. If you have not been continuing to evolve contingencies, then you are basically screwed when you realize that you had made a mistake to begin with.

Put another way, "stay the course" is a pretty bad solution when your car is headed off a cliff. It doesn't matter how committed you are to making something work if it is a bad course of action to begin with.

I agree that you have to account for contingencies. I'm just suggesting that, based on the quote, doing that was already part of the process leading to this point.

So, if you are driving off a cliff it would be bad to stay the course. Yet if you continually evaluate and question your alternatives, laboring over the branching possibilities of each, you could waste too much time and end up over the cliff anyway.


I see what she's trying to say and because she did not want to be blunt, she ended up speaking nonsense. Literally what she said is:

"contingency planning is bad practice"

But I think what she was trying to say was this:

"I don't want to offer alternatives while I'm trying to coax (or perhaps coerce) the response I really want. Seeming flexible puts me at a disadvantage in negotiations. Especially when you guys in congress are jogging my elbow here."

Thank god she's not Secretary of Defense. Not that their contingency planning skills have been much in evidence lately either.

The proof (of the folly, not only of the Bushian Iraq plan, but the deeply deferctive thinking - viz Condi - that underlay it) is not only in how well it has done, but in how well the Administration _has_ been able to adapt.

Dwight David Eisenhower - who as Supreme Allied Comander in WW II (aside from being President for two terms) - probably knew whereof he spoke, once said "There are no plans. There is only planning."

Bucky Fuller used to say "You can never learn less." I guess in this case he was wrong.


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