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Planning - Alex Belits
abelits
abelits
Planning
It's very common that someone plans a truly great thing, yet it ends up being a horrible mess, and everyone hates it. The examples are countless, and it looks like millennia pass, and this situation isn't getting any better. I think, the problem is not in the lack of people who can distinguish a good idea from a bad one but because the idea of dependencies and conditions is just complex enough to be understood way too late. To make things worse, trying to explain it to people who usually make the decisions, such as politicians and managers, is very difficult because whatever else those people are capable of, you can only rely on them understanding three models:

1. A is good, B is bad.
2. A will be easily accepted and supported by people in category C, B will be denounced by the same people.
3. Car analogies.

This is insufficient for anything as sophisticated as planning something that can succeed in real world, and for quite a while I was thinking, what simple explanation can be made so everyone will understand it. And just recently I have found a good, if primitive, analogy. Everyone understands analogies (even when they are wrong).

This is a really good, solid, plan:

1. Kick the thieves out of the house.
2. Close the door.
3. Start the feast.

Given that the problem (thieves in the house) and desired result (having a trouble-free feast) are correctly identified, and all steps of the plan can be achieved by available means, it's a great plan -- at the moment when the feast starts, thieves are outside, and can't get in.

Now, this is how it's usually done:

1. Start the feast.
2. Close the door.
3. Kick the thieves out of the house.

As you see, the order is reversed. This is bad: first, you have a feast with the thieves running around, so thieves will have a great opportunity to steal, among other things, your food, dishes and silverware, and you won't be ready to stop them. Second, it will be problematic to close the door while thieves are running through it, carrying things out. And third, kicking the thieves out would not accomplish much because by that time they have already stolen your stuff, and if some of them remained in the house, it will be difficult to kick them out through a closed door.

So, to make a good plan from a bad one you need to use the following obvious rules:

1. Kick the thieves out as soon as possible.
2. Don't start feast while thieves are around.
3. Close the door when thieves are outside.

Sadly, only the first problem is usually understood, and even then vague understanding that something has high priority is rarely victorious over delays, procrastination and other things that people assign high priorities to. The rest is usually a complete mystery to planners until they face the problem: their supposedly great idea produces horrible results.

So let me spell this out: An action that is supposed to produce a positive result, may produce pretty much anything -- good, bad, complete nonsense, or the very opposite of the intended goal, if the necessary conditions for it success are not met. This is long and apparently too convoluted for some decision-making mind, but the example about house, thieves and a feast clearly illustrates it.

This idea applies to many things. Building democracy when a country still practices slavery, or is divided between 2-3 groups that are at each others' throats, sounds like a pretty poor course of action from this point of view. Same applies to privatizing industry while the country is ruled by an oligarchy that controls the process. Same applies to teaching Chemistry before Physics, Biology before Chemistry and all of those things before students get any idea about Mathematics involved. Same applies to business plans centered around creating artificial scarcity of a resource that no one wants, and no one will want because it's so freaking scarce. Same applies to attempts to strengthen the economy and conserve energy while having a transportation infrastructure centered around cars, trucks and airplanes but with no usable public transit and no railroads. Same applies to building the aforementioned public transit in a way that there is a horrible disparity between throughput of 1-2 long train lines and local buses that are supposed to bring people to the train stations. Same applies to letting a large city to get flooded, then ordering evacuation without allocating necessary resources, training rescue workers or at least determining, who is going to get moved where, when and by what means.

Same applies to writing boot-up scripts that make my eyes bleed, and can be only maintained by an omniscient being that is capable of resolving all possible combinations of requirements in his head, producing a single sequence that is usable in all possible situations, with all software that might be invented.

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