If you look back at games in real time with star players like Messi, Maradona, or Cruyff himself, you will be very disappointed. The moments of sheer perfection are very limited, while 95% of the time they are struggling along, making as much mistakes as everybody else. You just remember their sublime actions better and forget the rest. It is more their ability to deal with the unexpected, the improvisation in unexpected situations that makes the heroes stand out. Cruyff understood that properly. Anticipating your own and other players mistakes is a much more effective approach to soccer, than dreaming of perfection.
Same thing happens in my daily work. An over proportionate amount of time is spend on the preparation of a project, the introduction of a new product, work in general. We do a lot of thinking and preparing before we start. Endless stacks of plans and memo’s are being assembled, long meetings are held about all aspects of the work and a long, very long time is spend on the internal approval process to avoid surprises at all levels within the company. Everybody has a change to come up with a new challenge that needs to be adressed before you can start. We need to be prudent, thorough and careful. It is all burdened with the ambition of avoiding mistakes. Once the work has started however nobody looks back at the initial plans and intentions. We have to concentrate fully on dealing with the unknown, the surprises that nobody predicted, the bad luck we all encounter once the execution started. I think Clausewitz said: the perfect strategic war plan is shattered with the first shot.
The fear of making mistakes has grown in the business community. There is a lot of blame ready to strike when things go wrong. This is related to the public execution by the media when mistakes are made in both politics and business. And mistakes transform in media easily into negligence. The whole legal system has a preference for concentrating on mistakes and wrongdoings. The reward for suing people for their errors has become attractive. Covering your ass has become therefore a more important quality for business than being prepared to react to the unexpected consequences of your actions. This development has been going on for decades. And again it is all based on the assumption that perfect execution is possible, which as we know is not possible.
To err is human. Getting your work and that of the whole team done with the result as intended is a matter of relentless dealing with the unexpected, finding creative solutions for challenges and softening the negative effects of accidents and lack of cooperation from others. What helps is a clear vision on the end result, excellent skills, experience built up after years of practice and the stamina to keep on going, even when everything seems to be lost. Putting the members of your team in the right position to absorb the unexpected helps towards a successful outcome. Plans should be judged on the abilities of the team, more than the pursuit of perfection in the planning itself. Which, if you come to think of it, is exactly why some soccer teams have a better chance of winning. A clear goal, the right skills, experience, excellent physical condition and everybody in the right position to deal with the unexpected and to score the goals.
There are in real life too many variables to come up with the perfect plan. Don’t even try, it does not exist.