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Brooks on Books: Balancing Planning with Surprise

In their standout book, Willpower, authors Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, describe the science of self-control in order to help readers understand how to better regulate themselves.

One section - albeit brief - caught my attention. The authors offer a short description of the history of military planning.

Napoleon’s advantage, according to the authors, was his ability to attack and improvise. As he put it, “You engage, and then you wait and see.” Responding to this, the Prussians gained an upper hand by becoming master planners. It worked wonders.

Along came two World Wars when planning was validated.

Fast Forward once again to the Vietnam War where Robert McNamara (who earned his military stripes in the Air Force Office of Statistical Control) was Secretary of Defense. He was a planner-extraordinaire. In that rapidly changing, guerrilla environment, planning wasn’t as effective as it was on the battlefields of the past. Soldiers on the ground needed to be a great deal more adaptable than their plans allowed.

The lesson? Flexibility is key.

How does this apply to your business?

  • As a sales manager, you must be certain your team is well-equipped for every possibility. You should ensure they have the tools they need and aren't unnecessarily surprised. But, it also means you have to trust them to get things right when you're not with them during thier face-to-face or phone-to-phone interactions with their prospects. Everything can't be planned or scripted. Allow them to use their brains.
  • As a seller, you must prepare and be willing to meet your prospect where they are. Don't go into a sales interaction without a pre-call plan. Don't be unnecessarily surprised. Develop plans that allow you to be flexible, but not flappable. You're not paid to read a script, you're paid to translate your offering into meaningful value to each qualified prospect you encounter.

Our sales seminars cover the delicate balance that must exist. But, you don’t need a class to learn that you have to prepare for every possibility and understand that there’s a surprise on the other side of every desk.