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The Falacy of Stories and Plans

Home > Blogs > The Falacy of Stories and Plans By: Rob Waller, October 29, 2021 #management #agile #planning

We’ve known for a long time that stories are deeply flawed, that history often only represents one perspective. Stories are put together after an event using a collection of facts, but never all the facts. It’s not to say there is no truth in a story, but there is never complete truth in a story. Ultimately stories cannot be completely trusted.

When I was a history student, many years ago now, I was set an essay question along the lines of “Was Bismark in Control of German Politics?” Bismark is an intimidating subject, a giant in historical terms, a man who left deep scars on European and World history. I read my books, my only conclusion was of course this giant of a man was in control of German politics, how could he not be?! I received a dreadful mark for my essay.

I had only really read the glowing reviews of Bismark’s ‘exploits’. They gave the impression of control, but the reality was more complicated. Bismark was a brilliant mind and a great statesman, but was he in control? Not really. The truer Bismark was simply responding to a combination of interesting and unforeseen events. He responded quite well in many cases, and made some astute gambles, but was he in control? No. And this was the point my tutor was trying to get at. I got a bad mark because I was led astray by stories.

We have to be careful which stories we believe, as they only ever represent a partial picture of the truth. Plans are similar to stories, in fact they can be classified as stories before an event. Plans tell a story of how we will progress towards a point in the future, rather telling us how we progressed from a point in the past.

Like stories plans suffer from the same flaws. They may contain some facts, but they will never contain all the facts, and they certainly can’t be fully trusted. They also vary in their quality from truthful works of nonfiction to fantastical works of fiction. The difference with plans though is we hold onto them much more dearly than stories. As the Joker suggests in Batman, if there isn’t a plan people lose their minds.

Plans though in reality are often fallacies, they are rarely accurate and often fail. Usually the grander the plan the less likely it is to work. So why do we do we care about plans so much? Well, as the Joker suggests, fear! We are scared to move forward with out a plan, we’re scared to move forward without knowing exactly where we’re going. Even if the plan is inaccurate, dangerous nonsense.

Like stories though, this is not to say plans offer no truth and have no value. But we should be careful and discerning about which plans we chose to follow. Usually short, small plans based on plenty of information are the best, and grand plans should be avoided. Also we have to accept plans are subject to change and review, they must be adaptable. This is similar to the way History adapts with time as new information is uncovered the stories we tell change. One day someone is a hero, the next they are not.