Was Benjamin Franklin Full of It?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On June 1, 2015

Failure to PlanOld Benjamin Franklin was a pretty smart guy. A lot of what he said and wrote has been passed down over more than 200 years and rings true today. One of his most famous quotes is: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

In addition to being a political leader, Ben Franklin was a businessman back in the day. But are his words of wisdom about business still accurate? Was he right or was he full of it? Is a failure to plan really a plan to fail?

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the validity and value of business plans. There are those who say that such plans are essential. There are others who say they are a waste of time. And there are yet others who would go so far as to suggest that they are worse than a waste of time: that they can actually hold a business back.

Before we throw Ben under the bus, let’s acknowledge that he wasn’t talking about the elaborate 40-page business plans that were so popular a few years ago. He was talking about thinking ahead and preparing for a variety of scenarios. That still makes sense for businesses today.

In fact, a recent inc.com article by Noah Parsons declares that Business Planning Makes You More Successful, and Here’s the Science to Prove It. In that article (which you can access in total here) Parsons cites research that shows that planning can help companies grow 30 percent faster, and that 71 percent of fast-growing companies have plans.

He also pointed out that the research shows that the kind of planning that pays off is not the kind that tries to accurately predict the future (and take all the guesswork out of your business). Instead what’s helpful is to set regular (and I’d add, realistic) goals and then make adjustments as you gather more information about your customers.

That’s just one reason I happen to be a big believer in the approach you’ll find in the Rockefeller Habits—including regular meetings such as: The Daily Huddle, The Weekly Meeting, The Monthly Management Meeting, and the Quarterly or Annual Planning Meeting that keep everyone up to date on current information and future plans.

Ben was right: Failing to plan is planning to fail. That doesn’t mean you need an elaborate business plan that takes six months to write (and which is probably out of date by the time you distribute it to employees or investors). You do, however, need to stay on top of current information and make plans that adapt to new information.

Need help setting up that kind of planning? I know a great coach who has lots of experience in that arena. Contact me and I’ll put you in touch!