Nasrudin decided to go for a hike in the wilderness. Since this was new territory for him, he studied the map beforehand, and planned out his route carefully. He put a good sandwich into his backpack, made sure his water bottle was filled, and set off.
Hiking in the mountains, Nasrudin came to a fallen tree which completely blocked the trail. He started to go around the tree, when suddenly he encountered a huge bear who did not seem happy to see him. Nasrudin ran back the other way, the bear in hot pursuit. Nasrudin tripped over a rock and fell into a mud puddle as he scrambled uphill. He grabbed the sandwich from his backpack and threw it at the bear, who, being more interested in the sandwich than Nasrudin, stopped to eat it while Nasrudin scrambled out of the mud and over a ridge.
After a time, being sure the bear was no longer following him, Nasrudin sat on a rock to clean up and get a sip of water. He took the map from his backpack and looked at it with disgust, saying to himself: “I’ve got to get a better map! None of that stuff was on this one!”
Commentary: Alfred Korzybski famously said: “The map is not the territory.” He might as well have said: “The plan is not the reality.” Plans are everywhere in organizations: strategic plans, business plans, action plans, investment plans, growth plans, cost-reduction plans … It’s hard to be taken seriously in business, politics or academe without a well-documented plan. And we do take them seriously: in many circles, “not making plan” is the strongest criticism of a manager’s performance. Just as we wouldn’t start on a trip without mapping out our course, we want to be sure to have a good plan before we start our endeavor.
But once we get going, reality has a nasty tendency to deviate from the plan. A sharp competitor cuts into our market share; interest rates head down instead of up; a new technology opens up a whole new set of opportunities; we recruit some key players for our team while losing some others; credit markets freeze solid. What do we do about the plan, then? Do we “stay the course,” insisting on “making plan” regardless? Do we revise the plan, or just abandon it and improvise? At what point does the plan become an obstacle to success?
But there may be a deeper meaning here as well here. Could Nasrudin be asking us to recognize that reality is filled with unexpected hungry bears?
Is he reminding us that something big and unplanned for always happens? How often do we find, looking back, that the most important thing we had to deal with was completely unforeseen? Perhaps we should consider the fallen tree and the bear as the rule, rather than the exception. We can’t know what it will be, or when it will come, but one thing Nasrudin asks us to consider: when all is said and done, the least likely scenario is finding that everything played out as we planned.
Nasrudin may be reminding us to keep our eyes out for hungry bears (and that sometimes you need a good sandwich to feed the bear more than you need a good map).
Contemplation: How are your plans doing in matching reality? Are you confusing the map for the territory? What are you doing to keep an eye out for hungry bears?
Dedicated to the millions of people who lost trillions of dollars in 2008 when the “impossible” and completely unforeseen became real.