05/25/2011 12:48 pm ET | Updated Jul 25, 2011

Can We Live Life Without a Plan B?

A little while ago I was asked about Plan Bs.

At the time, I happened to be driving a tractor, a pastime that lends itself to contemplation. There's something about the slow, repetitive motion that helps me think. So I chugged along and thought a bit before I gave my answer, which came to me as a question: If we have a Plan B, does it, in essence, mean that we know our Plan A is going to fail?

This led to another question: If that's the case, then why bother with Plan A at all and simply go straight to Plan B if it is the catchall?

Why not make Plan B our Plan A in the first place?

I looked down at the tractor I was driving and wondered about the engineers who had designed it. Did they have a Plan B? Or did they go straight to Plan A and design the best tractor they could?

I continued this line of inquiry as the tractor putted along.

What are we saying, in essence, when we have a Plan B? We could be saying that we do not fully believe in or trust our Plan A -- or that we have not fully committed to it. We could be saying that we understand that the unexpected always occurs and we don't want to sink our energy into something that could fail. Or we could be saying a combination of all of these, any one of which keeps us from fully investing ourselves.

With a Plan-B mentality, we are expecting the unexpected, and we're afraid that we won't know how to navigate it. We're hedging our bets. This prevents us from putting the full force of our energy and focus into making Plan A work, which diminishes the possibility of success and absolutely calls for us to be prepared with a Plan B.

If we instead design the very best Plan A that we are capable of designing, the question at hand then becomes not whether it will work, but whether we are committed to it and have the ability to navigate unexpected moments within that plan.

If there is any doubt as to the plan's soundness, our commitment or our ability to navigate the unexpected, we'll be reaching for a Plan B.

To avoid that, grab the bull by the horns. Because not only is the unexpected alive and kicking, it's expected.

Think about it. When was the last time an opportunity showed up unexpectedly, when something incredible fell right out of the sky? These are great examples of all the possibilities out there for us that we are unaware of.

We can expect them. We just can't plan for them.

What did you do in those moments? Did you grab ahold of them? Did you consider them? Or did you let them pass you by because they were not part of the original plan?

Look around at the myriad success stories that are happening every day. Are those people simply lucky? Or are they committed to their plans and willing to integrate the unexpected into them?

Here's how to navigate the unexpected when it shows up:

  • Look at the moment simply as information. Do not react to it.
  • Be willing to consider this new information rather than resisting it.
  • Stay open to the information for a moment without deciding whether it has merit or not.
  • Step back and wait. Just for a brief moment.

It's not easy to step back and wait in moments when we usually want to regain some immediate sense of control. Stepping back and waiting, even for a moment, is not the usual course of action.

But that's the point. When the usual course of action is not working, you need something new. Time to reflect -- even briefly -- is paramount to success. With that consideration, reread the first three points, take another look at the last point and see if it could be a viable alternative to our normal M.O.

While you're considering it, here's another way to look at it: Do you have enough curiosity to wait and see what shows up? Or is the need for control greater than your level of curiosity? Curiosity is key to the success of any plan. It is the instinct that moves any plan forward. Being curious allows us to see through blind assumptions. Curious people are known to experience higher levels of satisfaction in life. Albert Einstein himself said, "I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious." That's pretty good company to be in.

When you take in a moment simply as information and do not react, you can stay emotionally connected. When you stay emotionally connected, you can correct course in the unexpected moments. And there's the answer to our request to have a sense of control in the unexpected.

So, back to the original question: to Plan B or not to Plan B?

If we count on the element of surprise making an appearance in Plan A because we do not know all the possibilities available to us, the question instead becomes: Can we count on our ability to navigate the surprise? The answer will determine whether we need a Plan B.


  • Create our Plan A to work.
  • Commit to Plan A 100 percent.


  • Recognize that we don't know all the possibilities. And expect them to show up.
  • Trust, or learn how to trust, our abilities to navigate the moments of surprise.
  • Allow those moments to expand the plan instead of derailing it.

Imagine this: Could the unexpected be the very thing that breeds success? These days, we're looking for secure, guaranteed ways out. Could making our Plan Bs instruments of innovation and inquiry rather than defaults be the ticket we're looking for?