The Best Reason NOT to Have a Backup Plan

by Tom Koulopoulos

The Best Reason NOT to Have a Backup Plan

I’m going to challenge your intuition and sense of self-preservation. But I’m going to do it in the name of something much greater, self-fulfillment.

Stick with me for a few short minutes.

I don’t watch much TV or cable, but a few years ago I got caught up in the drama of a live broadcast of Nik Wallenda’s tight rope crossing of the Grand Canyon. It takes a special sort of crazy to do what Wallenda does, but then again it takes a special sort of crazy to do what you are doing.

Let’s face it the drama of watching someone walking on a two inch cable may warrant prime time more so than watching you run your business, but the consequences of failing at either can be just as devastating.

What struck me most, however, was that Wallenda had no real backup plan. He was not tethered to the tightrope, there was no safety net, and he certainty wasn’t wearing a parachute. If he stumbled he’d need to get back up, and if he fell there was only one way to go. And you know damn well he wasn’t turning around!

So, what does this have to do with your being an entrepreneur, an innovator, and a pioneer? A lot!

When you set out on this journey I’m sure you gave yourself all sorts of outs. You probably had a timeline, “If the business doesn’t take off in two years I’m going back to my day job,” or how about, “If I can’t bank one million dollars in five years then I’ll just work a 9-5.” Each of these was your Plan B, the apparently safe place to land if what you really wanted failed. Makes sense, of course. Not really!

“People with Plan Bs do not put their all into plan A.”

However, something happened along the way, right? Plan B suddenly disappeared and you were left with only plan A. How do I know that? Because you’re reading this. The fact is that I’ve yet to meet a successful entrepreneur who really has a plan B, and the reason is simple. People with Plan Bs do not put their all into plan A. The result is that when the going gets rough they fall into their safety net, in fact they often reach for it at the first sign of trouble. And why not? After all that’s what safety nets are for, to help us avoid the fear of failure and getting hurt.

But, here’s the thing. Falling into that net may feel momentarily safe and secure, it may calm your inner fears and give you peace of mind for the short time that you are suspended above the ground, but eventually you need to get out of the net, and look up at what you fell off of. If you think it’s nauseating looking down then don’t try looking back up after the fall because that’s when the taste of regurgitating regret comes in.

Now, I’m not saying that your Plan B isn’t going to provide some security and safety. It likely will, and, as my son once said about getting stuck in a box you don’t want to be in, “you’ll decorate it very nicely.” What I am saying is that by having a Plan B you’ve just about sealed the fate of your original plan; you know, the one you won’t forgive yourself for not giving 110% to. Effectively what you’re dong is planning for failure!

This isn’t just me opining dramatically. Two B school professors recently proved the point in a study they conducted, which was detailed in ScienceDirect.com. Jihae Shin at the Wisconsin School of Business and Katherine Milkman at Wharton looked at the effect of backup plans on people making a life decision. What they found was that people with backup plans regularly failed at achieving the goals of their primary plans.

“If you think it’s nauseating looking down then don’t try looking back up after the fall because that’s when the taste of regurgitating regret comes in.”

Why? Well, go back to my Wallenda analogy. If you have no option but to cross the tightrope chances are you will pull out all the stops–no matter the challenges–to cross it. Adrenaline, creativity, and unbridled passion will figure out a way across the tight rope if one exists. If, on the other hand, you know you have a sure and safe exit, it’s much more likely you will fall shy, even if just a bit, from pulling out all the stops.

So, what does this have to do with you? Simple. If you’re spending all of your time trying to set up a safety net I’m going to bet you will use it. How can I be so sure? Because life is going to try like hell to knock you off of that tight rope. Come on, if it was that easy to cross there would be a line waiting to pay admission to do it! Look behind you, there’s no line.

You’re out here walking this tightrope because you want to get to the other side, so don’t plan for getting halfway or a third of the way or even 90% of the way.

So, about that backup plan. Is the price you’re paying to have it worth the cost?

Plan B, be damned.

Get your Change Planning Toolkit license and kill your competition

This article was originally published on Inc.

Wait! Before you go…

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:


Thomas KoulopoulosTom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.

Leave a Reply