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Lean and mean: Planning differently in 2021

/ 05:03 AM January 02, 2021

Around this time in 2019, bookstores would already be selling planners and calendars of all types. Surprisingly, this was not the case with the two stores that we visited over the weekend while donning the requisite face masks and face shields. According to one sales lady, they have yet to receive their allocation of 2021 organizers. “Nag-alanganin siguro yung mga gumagawa ng mga planners. Marami kasing plano ang di natuloy ngayong taon,” I told her in jest.

In any case, it’s hard not to empathize with businesses whose plans have been disrupted by the pandemic. Take the case of the mall we haven’t gone to for nine months. As my wife and I hurriedly moved from one shop to the next, I could not help but notice the establishments that continued to remain shut. There’s the cinema where my wife and I used to bring our kids regularly. There’s the hotdog kiosk that also sold fish balls and nachos. Right across the kiosk was the burger joint we used to frequent. I felt sad for their employees and business owners and I wondered where they are now.

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The more I thought about them, the more I remembered how life dealt my high school teacher a crushing blow. Several months before she was scheduled to marry her fiancé, she received devastating news: He died in a road accident somewhere in the Middle East. Worse, the Arab motorist involved in the incident was not charged with anything, because the investigators ruled it was the victim’s fault. To this day, I cannot forget how she capped her sad narrative: If there was one thing that she learned from her experience, it was to refrain from planning. It’s pointless, she said, as things rarely turn out the way you plan them.

My professor in college might not agree with such insight completely. Unlike my high school teacher, she got to ride the bridal car all the way to the church. But that was as far as she got. It was while she was seated in the bridal car that she confirmed her growing suspicion — her groom had stood her up. You will probably not believe what she did next after collecting herself: She ordered her driver to take her to the house of a suitor she had jilted in favor of her groom. Stunned by the sight of the girl of his dreams in a wedding dress, the suitor somehow found the words to ask why she was there. There and then, she asked the man if he still loved her despite everything. Very much so, he assured her. Might there be a chance, she asked, that he would want to marry her on the condition that she would do her best to learn how to love him? The guy said yes on the spot. Incredibly, at the time that my teacher told us this surreal story, they had been happily married for decades.

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In light of these stories, how should we plan during these volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous times? More to the point, does it still make sense to plan? We are, after all, starting a brand new year with so many questions to which we have no answers: How exactly will the vaccines be distributed? What might be the possible side effects of vaccines from China and Russia? What are the chances we too might fall victim to the almost daily killings that are no longer confined to the war on drugs? What do we do if we get hit by the next typhoon “Ulysses”? How long can the surviving companies hold on to their employees given the losses caused by this pandemic?

If anything, our 2020 experience should teach us how to plan differently this 2021. Instead of fleshing out a definitive blueprint or a rigid process map, we would do well focusing on lean and mean action items that we can clearly influence while providing a much bigger room for contingencies. Choosing what we eat and participating in webinars to expand our knowledge are good examples. So are reading books and exercising daily. As Rolf Dobelli said years before this pandemic: “Do you have everything under control? Probably less than you think. Do not think you command your way through life like a Roman emperor… Focus on the few things of importance that you can really influence. For everything else: Que sera, sera.”

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Von Katindoy is a teacher at Ateneo de Manila University and an incoming student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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