Veterans Day Thoughts: Eisenhower on Planning

11November 2013

Today is Veterans Day, so I thought I’d share some marketing wisdom from one of this century’s greatest military leaders – Dwight Eisenhower.

So, you’re probably wondering what leading our troops in World War II and then serving as President has to do with marketing.  Actually, more than you think because Eisenhower oversaw the development of the Interstate Highway System and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).  DARPA led to the development of the Internet, and the GSP system, too.  So if you sell products on Amazon and a truck delivers them to your customers,

marketing roadmap
Creating a Marketing Plan gives you a road map

thank President Eisenhower.

In addition to offering visionary leadership that funded projects we all use to our commercial advantage, Eisenhower really understood planning.   His most quotable quote is:  Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.

As a small business owner and entrepreneur, and also from my work with clients, I understand what he meant about the importance of planning and the futility of it, too.

In a speech that Eisenhower gave to National Defense Executive Reserve Conference in 1957, he expanded on this remark to the audience.  He explains the planning process as projecting possible problems that may arise in the execution of your endeavor.  In his experience, the endeavor was winning a war.  The goal was to do so as quickly and with as few casualties as possible.  To that end, he explored many scenarios, examining each one and thinking and planning how to respond.

After the plans were made, he would find himself in the heat of battle.  Things may not look like they did on paper.  Most importantly, there are people involved, and it’s never possible to fully plan or predict how human beings will act, particularly in life or death situations.

That’s why, in the end, the plans may be worthless.  But the practice of considering all of the possible options and thinking methodically about the situation make it possible to act under fire.

When we make plans for our business, that’s what we are doing.  We set aside time to think methodically about our business.  In the MBA model I was trained in, we used the SWOT analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – to guide the plan development.

As I work with small businesses, I find lots of resistance to the idea of writing a marketing plan.  Many of us are so busy fighting fires in our business that we feel there’s no time to put together a plan.  Ironically, some of those fires could be put out with greater efficiency, or perhaps avoided in the first place, if there was a structured planning method in place.  Another roadblock is the fear that if we have a plan, we have to stick to it and ignore good new opportunities.

On the contrary, having a plan creates a framework for evaluating the “opportunities” that pop up on a regular basis.  It also gives you a basis for evaluating the success or failure of your actions.  You can toss the plan out the window.  Its real value is the practice of creating it.

As we go about our day, let’s remember to give thanks for General Eisenhower and all of the other brave men and women who have made it possible for us to live our lives in freedom.

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