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The Plan B Conundrum

“Your card is the Three of Spades!” the magician exclaimed. The participant on stage smiled sheepishly and said, “No. It was the Jack of Hearts.”

Without missing a beat, the magician replied, “Ahhh, I thought this might happen. You see, before tonight’s show I had a feeling that a certain card might attempt to disrupt us, so I turned that card face down in this deck.” He then pulled out a deck, spread the cards, and one card was upside down. He turned it over and it was indeed the Jack of Hearts. The audience applauded at the magician’s cunning skill.

While it appeared the magician had it planned all along, his intention was actually to get it right the first time. The deck with the upside down card was his insurance policy. Magicians call it having an ‘out’. Most of us call it having a Plan B.

Without a Plan B the magician would have been stuck and said, “Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all,” and moved on. The trick would have ended with a whimper instead of a bang.

Whether in business or in life, when we move forward with a big decision, having a Plan B in case your Plan A doesn’t work out can be a smart strategy. Having a 2nd best option waiting in the wings can help you find success amidst failure.

However, there is disagreement on whether having a Plan B is a good idea. Some argue that having a Plan B makes you less likely to succeed at Plan A. Jeff Bezos once said, “Plan B should always be - make plan A work.”

While Bezos, the Amazon founder, is obviously smart and successful, I disagree with him. Yes, you may be more motivated to make Plan A work if you have no other option, but failure is always a possibility. When that happens the outcome will likely be much worse if you have not planned your next move.

Interestingly, Bezos also said, “The real Plan B if Amazon hadn't worked out … I would be an extremely happy software programmer.” So in reality, he did have a Plan B for his career, just not his company.

In some cases it may not be a good idea to formulate a Plan B. (Don't try it when choosing a spouse!) Other times you may have time to develop a Plan B after Plan A doesn’t work out. A Plan B can reduce your risk and give you a path forward.

Here are some tips for deciding whether to create a Plan B:

- Ask yourself:

How could this decision fail?

What will I do if this doesn’t work out?

- Regard your plan B as a safety net, not an excuse to give up on Plan A.

- Be realistic about your chances of success with both plans.

- Be flexible and willing to adjust your plans as needed.

- Have a timeline with goals and checkpoints to determine if and when to implement Plan B

Another good option, if possible, is to implement Plans A and B at the same time - perhaps at a smaller scale. Then determine which option works best for you.

Remember, preparing for failure does not mean you are expecting to fail. It just makes life easier if you do.

Think well - live well.

- Steve Haffner, speaker and illusion expert

Want to learn more about improving your decision making and performance?

Click here for my free book, 7 Strategies for Making Better Decisions


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