Foresight is CrappyI love to study history – there’s always something to learn.  In fact, my children claim I can relate ANYTHING to the battle of Midway because I did so many times when they were at home – Mostly during dinner time conversations when we would discuss their day’s activities and experiences.  And one of our favorite activities has been our podcast series The Hidden History of Business.

So, it should be no surprise that I recently was watching a discussion on YouTube about the debate between World War I and World War II about aircraft carriers vs. battleships.  It was one of the few discussions that pointed out that the choice wasn’t obvious until the early 1940’s.  It was only then that aircraft became capable of the weapon loads, speed and range required to be truly powerful weapons.  Every experience until then gave the edge in battle to battleships.  Aircraft were recognized as being useful for reconnaissance and spotting, but they weren’t effective weapons against capital ships.

Were those who campaigned for more battleships fools or blinded idiots?  NO, it was that they didn’t see the possibilities of aircraft with more powerful engines and better building materials and techniques.  They dealt with the world as it was and pursued a conservative approach to naval warfare.

And, as a general rule, the conservative approach to most problems is the best approach – based on actual experience in the world.

After all, how many projects seek to take that great leap forward – and fall flat on their faces?  In Washington State currently, there is a project to update the computer management system for community colleges – which is years behind schedule and way over budget.  And the federal projects which the same can be said of are legendary – although, to be honest, a study found approximately 25% of all federal projects were completed within time and money budgets.

But American management culture rarely considers failure – and delay and cost overruns are management failures – to have any place in planning.  Plus, incremental approaches are rarely winners in the budgetary processes used in business or government because it’s easier to sell the Taj Mahal than the two-bedroom single family home.

I was frequently faced with the problem of accounting for the unknowns in the projects I managed.  Which is why I often used the high estimate for time or cost in my planning because I knew that I would need extra money or time at some point because of the unexpected.  If I ever dared to put a “management reserve” in my budget, I knew that it would be ripped out as soon as it was spotted.  I was supposed to know exactly what the project would cost and how long it would take, otherwise, I wasn’t doing my job.

But a quick examination of any Property Brothers episode or other home improvement show will educate the observer that there are always surprises when you open up that wall or remove that carpet.  And surprises cost in time and money.

So, we optimistically blind ourselves during our planning and execution by ignoring potential what ifs.  And, therefore, we often fail – whether in starting a business, a marriage, or a project.

In other words, our foresight is crappy, and we have only ourselves to blame.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.