When plan­ning meets re­al­ity

Campaign UK - - PROMOTION -

Al­fred von Sch­li­ef­fen was in charge of the en­tire Ger­man army. In 1905, it be­came ob­vi­ous that Ger­many would have to go to war with France. France was a huge mil­i­tary power on one side of Ger­many. France’s main ally, Rus­sia, was a huge mil­i­tary power on the other side of Ger­many. Von Sch­li­ef­fen knew Ger­many couldn’t fight a war against both at the same time. But von Sch­li­ef­fen also knew that Rus­sia was so huge, it would take them at least six weeks to mo­bilise their army. If he could knock out France in six weeks, he could then use Ger­many’s full might to knock out Rus­sia. So he spent ten years plan­ning how to de­feat France in six weeks. Von Sch­li­ef­fen had 600 trained of­fi­cers in his elite “gen­eral staff”. They de­cided to use the rail­way sys­tem to move their armies to the front. Be­tween them, they planned the timeta­bles of 11,000 trains. Then they planned the march­ing rate of two mil­lion sol­diers. They planned ev­ery­thing down to the last de­tail. The Sch­li­ef­fen Plan took nine years, but it was bril­liant. Bel­gium was neu­tral, so France never built for­ti­fi­ca­tions along that bor­der. The Ger­man army would sim­ply march through Bel­gium un­op­posed and out­flank the French. But, like all plans, there’s al­ways the un­ex­pected. In this case, the plan­ners made the mis­take plan­ners of­ten make. They for­got that or­di­nary peo­ple aren’t data. First, they for­got about the or­di­nary Ger­man peo­ple who made up the two-mil­lion-man army.

The plan­ners had made their cal­cu­la­tions based on march­ing rates of pro­fes­sional sol­diers.

But the con­scripts were shop­keep­ers, fac­tory work­ers and bank clerks.

They weren’t used to march­ing like sol­diers were.

Their feet got so badly blis­tered, they could barely walk, much less march 25 miles a day. Sec­ond, the plan­ners for­got about the or­di­nary Bel­gian peo­ple. Von Sch­li­ef­fen planned for Ger­many to smash though the neu­tral coun­try un­op­posed, in two days. But the Bel­gians fought back and it took Ger­many more than two weeks to break through. To do it, they vi­o­lated Bel­gium’s neu­tral­ity and com­mit­ted many out­rages.

Third, the plan­ners for­got about the or­di­nary Bri­tish peo­ple.

They were so hor­ri­fied by what they saw as the rape of neu­tral Bel­gium that pub­lic opin­ion forced Bri­tain to go to war with Ger­many.

Ger­many was now fight­ing a war si­mul­ta­ne­ously with three huge mil­i­tary pow­ers, not just the one they planned on. And, in­stead of be­ing over in six weeks, the war went on for four years. Af­ter which Ger­many was all but de­stroyed. The bril­liance of the Ger­man plan­ners could have worked if ev­ery­one had done ex­actly what all the data said they would do. But or­di­nary peo­ple aren’t data, and plan­ners don’t al­low for that. They can’t be pre­dicted like num­bers on paper. The plan­ners for­got what Søren Kierkegaard said: “Life can only be un­der­stood back­wards, but it must be lived for­wards.”

Or as Mike Tyson put it: “Ev­ery­one’s got a strat­egy un­til they get hit.”

“Or­di­nary peo­ple aren’t data, and plan­ners don’t al­low for that. They can’t be pre­dicted like num­bers on paper”

Dave Trott is the au­thor of Cre­ative Mis­chief, Preda­tory Think­ing and One Plus One Equals Three

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