“Perfect Today” < “Less Wrong Tomorrow”

Carl Richards is a Certified Financial Planner™ and creator of the Sketch Guy column, appearing weekly in The New York Times since 2010.  The following article is reproduced with permission from his weekly newsletter and his website can be found here.

Greetings, Carl here.

We do planning wrong.

It doesn’t matter what kind—financial, business, life… you name it.

Here’s how we typically plan:

1- We put a stake in the ground where we are today.
2- We put a stake in the ground where we want to be in the future.
3- We draw a straight line between the two stakes.

The problem is that because we don’t like dancing with uncertainty, we obsess over making the line as precise and accurate as possible. We think that if we just have a big enough calculator, we can get the line to be an accurate reflection of the future.

But we can’t.


In fact, the only thing we know for sure about that straight line is that it is wrong. We just don’t know why… yet.

But it will be wrong again and again and again because we can’t predict the future, no matter how many numbers we crunch.

The good news? That’s okay.

That’s right… it’s okay not to know. It has to be okay because there’s no other option.

I’m not saying don’t ever draw the line. For sure, that’s an important part of the planning process. It gives us an approximation, a baseline, a direction to go.

I’m just saying, don’t confuse the line with reality.

After the line is drawn, we need to relax into the idea that planning is an ongoing process. We need to understand that what matters far more than the line is how we behave when it’s time to make course corrections.

Straight-line planning is about being precisely correct today (again, something that is not possible).

Reality-based planning, on the other hand, is the process of being less wrong tomorrow. It’s the constant work of narrowing the potential range of outcomes over time.

So instead of trying to carve the perfect plan in stone as if it’s a monument to the future, let’s write our plans in pencil and stay focused on the process of being a little less wrong tomorrow.


P.S. As always, if you want to use this sketch, you can buy it here.