Life Is Meaningless: For REAL Wellness Sakes, Create Some

Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning. Henry MillerIntroductionIn a cosmic sense, our lives and the existence of all life on Earth is a bit of a paradox – we and the world around us are mind-boggling wondrous contingencies beyond the language of superlatives, improbable almost beyond belief. The paradox comes in the reality that it all amounts to nothing, ultimately, because life has no cosmic meaning and every creature will die, everything else will be destroyed and all that is will vanish forever without a trace.Which is a polite way of saying life is meaningless, basically, but you’re here now so the bright side, REAL wellness thing to do is invent meanings and purposes that promote wellbeing, yours and as many others as possible.Cosmic Meaning Any discussion about meaning of life invites a distinction between cosmic and terrestrial meaning. Life is meaningless only in the cosmic sense; the opportunities for finding meaning comes in the second kind of meaning, to be discussed next.Cosmic meaning is meaning from the perspective of the universe. This is the sense in which life is insignificant and pointless, extremely limited in time and space. We are tiny beings on a planet in an unremarkable solar system in a galaxy with hundreds of billions of solar systems – and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies. It would be hard if not impossible to write an understatement that tops this one: we are not the center or point (raison d’etre) of the universe. The cosmos is coldly indifferent to our fate. Everything is devoid of lasting consequence.Billions of people, however, believe their lives have enduring significance. Acculturated from birth to see themselves as cosmic celebrities, special beings created by a god who loves them personally and will, after death, invite them to dwell forever and ever in a really cool place. This conviction would give anyone a strong sense of cosmic significance. Nice work or retirement, perhaps, if you can get it, that is, if true. However, there is a downside to such thinking. In the Christian court of no appeal, believers in this cosmic meaning may be found guilty of not having loved the god sufficiently, in which case eternal horrors await.

If the cosmic significance I’ve just described sounds preposterous, and you suspect I’m making this up (and I wouldn’t fault you for that – it does sound bonkers), then check the obituaries of your local paper. Here you will find accounts of people who, despite dying, are said to have transitioned to a glorious place of eternal bliss. (Oddly, I’ve never seen an obituary notice that the departed is now burning in hell.) Or, be a bit more scholarly about it: read David Benetar’s 2017 book, The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions.Alas, there is zero evidence and even less likelihood of heaven or hell. Thus, this kind of theological take on cosmic meaning has to be embraced on faith and more than a few grains of proverbial salt. But, then again, maybe that’s what it takes to get into The Good Place.Terrestrial MeaningIn a terrestrial sense, of course, our lives do have meaning, do matter, enormously, not only for ourselves but to others and, in some cases, perhaps to a whole tribe, a village maybe, hell, in some rare cases, to the whole of mankind, in some way – for a while, at least. Think Paine, Lincoln, Darwin, Ingersoll, Dawkins and Harris – and the list of your own heroes, past and present.Terrestrial meaning must be the dew and rain, seed and soil, air and light of REAL wellness – the beating heart of being well that makes the human predicament less burdensome. Terrestrial meaning might entail what Peter Singer termed a transcendent cause, one beyond the boundaries of the self. Viktor Frankl created an approach to meaning linked to mental wellbeing called logotherapy, based on the premise that we are motivated by a will to meaning, an inner pull toward animating purposes that make life worthwhile. Nietzsche’s way of capturing this aspect of terrestrial meaning was to say he who has a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how.’ REAL Wellness and Quality of LifeHobbes was an optimist: life is far more dismal than simply ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’ Life is of low, low, very very low quality, for most, whether poor or rich or something in-between. Elon Musk, billionaire creator of fabulous companies (i.e., Tesla, Space Explorations Technologies and a new tunneling start-up), admits to being under pressure all the time and consequently suffering mood swings, terrible lows and unrelenting stress. So, if you want to do better, take quality of life enhancements very seriously.To boost quality of life, recognize how extraordinarily unfortunate life really is and knock yourself out working passionately to make it less so. Accept the unwelcome reality that life sucks is the norm, lower your expectations and resolve to pick up every jewel of joy that can be found in your path (Ingersoll). The end really is near, not from some brain-dead End Times fundamentalist doomsday but simply because life is naturally short, and even shorter if misfortune strikes, which is never unlikely. And, if you’re old, well, do I really need to belabor this point?The Final Years: Special Tips for Old Folks If, like me, you are nearing the far side of middle age, you are well aware that the only way to avoid growing old and suffering the loss of precious bodily fluids is to die young, and you have managed not to do that, by virtue of random good fortune, genetics and maybe even wise choices.Your reward is a difficult era of trials and tribulations. Make the most of it – life as a senior has its own peculiar rewards, besides movie discounts and early bird dinner specials. Seize every opportunity. Deal with the slings and arrows of creeping decrepitude with grace, panache and a sense of humor, to the extent possible. (Occasionally, go ahead and gripe and bitch and be cranky as hell – most will understand.)

Move as much as your joints and other body parts allow. Listen to advice from others but keep your own counsel. Don’t give ground without a fight, but don’t go down with the ship, either. While all your senses will be less acute than decades ago, view what’s left as treasures and put them to good use.Pamper yourself. Sleep as much as possible, within limits. Get massages now and then and, if you enjoy such things, take cold plunges, bask in hot tubs and learn to snowboard, skateboard and surf the big waves in Hawaii! Haha – just kidding about cold plunges. Probably not a good idea but if you want to try new things and you feel frisky enough, go for it.Make a special effort to keep learning new tricks. Consider writing your autobiography – your children, grandchildren and descendants down through the ages will love it. Doing so might be a challenge that brings you pleasure. If your life has been totally boring, make up some wild stuff – and have your autobiography embargoed for 100 years. After that, your descendants won’t know any better and your life will become a proud family legend. What’s the harm in a little literary license?In ConclusionNo matter your age, come to total terms with the fact that nobody lives forever, at least not on Earth or anywhere else that we can be sure about. Decide how you want to transition back into stardust and celebrate as much as possible, every day, every hour why you’re still here.So, my friends, seize the day – every day remaining. If now and then you forget to think and act positively, cheerfully and brightly, get an hourglass. Put it on your desk or by the bed. Let it be a subtle reminder not to postpone the good, in ways large and small.

Four Reasons Why Small Business Fail To Plan and Why They Need To Think Again

It is so widely acknowledged that a robust business plan is one of the key ingredients in small business success, it seems remarkable that anyone serious about their business could considerable it optional. For example, Business Link say, “It is essential to have a realistic, working business plan when you’re starting up a business”. A recent survey showed that small businesses were twice as likely to be successful with a written business plan as compared with those without one. The Times in their annual round up of 100 up and coming UK businesses suggest that “poor business planning” is a key reason for failure. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to find an authority that would advocate the opposite idea, a clear signal that this idea is accepted wisdom. Despite this, a recent survey shows that two thirds of small business owners run their businesses on gut instinct alone.

I had a very interesting discussion about this a couple of days ago with a good friend of mine who has run several successful small businesses in which he posited the idea of a “planning gene”. He felt that the only possible explanation for the lack of proper planning in small business was genetic.

According to his theory, the majority of people are born without the “planning gene” and this explains why so many people don’t have any written business plan, despite the overwhelming evidence of a high correlation between a robust and vigorously implemented business plan and business success. The majority of us are simply not biologically and genetically wired to plan.

This is certainly one explanation, although I have to say I have a few reservations as to the validity of his theory. I talk with small business owners about planning every day. I’m part of a small business myself. I’ve owned several small businesses over the last ten years each with varying degrees of success. In all those conversations and all that experience, this was the first (semi) serious discussion I’d had about the planning gene.

If I was to aggregate the results of the conversations I have had with actual and prospective customers on this topic, four distinctive strands emerge explaining why small business owners fail to plan. Whilst I have heard a few other explanations for the lack of effective small business planning, I am treating these as outliers and focusing on the most significant.

I’m Too Busy To Plan – More often than not, the small business owners we talk to tell us that proper planning is a luxury that only big business can afford. For them, business planning, if done at all, was a one-time event that produced a document for a bank manager or investor which is now gathering dust in the furthest recesses of some rarely opened filing cabinet. There just aren’t enough hours in the day and if forced to choose, they would do the real, physical work and leave the mental work undone, which seems to be the poor relation at best, if it is even dignified with the status of work at all.

Traditional Planning Doesn’t Work – The “I’m too busy to plan” excuse is often supplemented with this one. I’ve heard the stories of the most legendary construction overrun of all time, The Sydney Opera House, originally estimated to be completed in 1963 for $7 million, and finally completed in 1973 for $102 million, more times than I can remember. Sometimes, this idea is backed up with some actual research, such as the fascinating study by several eminent psychologists of what has been called the “planning fallacy”. It seems that some small business owners genuinely believe that mental work and planning is a bit of a con with no traction on physical reality.

My Business Is Doing Fine Without Detailed Planning – A minority of small business owners we speak to are in the privileged position of being able to say they’ve done pretty well without a plan. Why should they invest time and resources into something they don’t appear to have missed?

Planning Is Futile In A Chaotic World – Every once in a while, we hear how deluded we are to believe that the world can be shaped by our hopes and actions. This philosophical objection to planning is perhaps my favourite. It takes ammunition from a serious debate about the fundamental nature of the universe and uses it to defend what almost always is either uncertainty about how to plan effectively or simple pessimism. This is different from the idea that planning doesn’t work as these business owners have never even tried to form a coherent plan, but have just decided to do the best they can and hope that they get lucky as they are knocked hither and thither like a steel ball in the pinball machine of life.

As with all of the most dangerous excuses, there is a kernel of truth in each of these ideas and I sympathise with those who have allowed themselves to be seduced into either abandoning or failing to adopt the habit of business planning. Most small business owners feel the same dread in relation to business planning as they do to visits to the dentist, so it’s unsurprising that so many simply don’t bother. However, by turning their backs completely on planning, they are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Taking each idea outlined above in turn, I’ll attempt to show why business planning is critical, not just despite that reason but precisely because of that reason.

I’m Too Busy Not To Plan – Time is the scarcest resource we have and it is natural that we would want to spend it doing those things that we believe will have the greatest impact. Of course, we want to spend most of our time producing, but we should also invest at least some time into developing our productive capacity. As Stephen Covey pointed out in his seminal work, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, we should never be too busy sawing to sharpen a blunted saw. Planning is one of the highest leverage activities we can engage in, as when done effectively it enhances the productive capacity of small businesses, enabling them to do more with less. Nothing could be a bigger waste of precious time than to find out too late that we have been using blunt tools in pursuit of our business goals.

If we as small business owners weren’t so busy and time wasn’t so scarce, then we wouldn’t have to make choices about what we did with our time and resources. We could simply pursue every opportunity which presented itself. However, for the busy entrepreneur, the decision to do one thing always has the opportunity cost of not being able to do something else. How can we be certain that our business is going where we want it to go without pausing regularly, scanning the horizon and making sure not only that we are on track but also making sure that we still want to get to where we are heading? I believe more time is wasted in the single-minded pursuit of opportunities that are not right than is wasted by over thinking the opportunity of a lifetime.

In short, small business owners are extremely busy and their time is precious. So much so that to waste it doing the wrong things with the wrong tools would be tragic. Small business owners that cannot afford the luxury of making expensive mistakes simply must regularly sharpen the saw through continuous business planning.

Traditional Planning Doesn’t Work, So We Need a New Approach That Does – There are some fairly large question marks over the effectiveness of traditional business planning techniques. In an age where business models are becoming obsolete in months rather than years, a business plan projecting five years into the future cannot be viewed as gospel. Nobody has a crystal ball and if they did, they probably wouldn’t be writing business plans but using their remarkable predictive powers to some more profitable end.

Dwight D Eisenhower said “plans are useless, but planning is essential”. Whilst producing a document called a business plan is far from useless, the real value lies in the process by which the plan is created in the first place. If this process can be kept alive in a business then the dangers associated with traditional planning can be minimised or avoided all together. In an environment of continuous business planning, small businesses can be flexible and adaptive to the inevitable changes and challenges they will face. Rather than quickly becoming obsolete, their plan will simply evolve with the changing circumstances.

Accepting that the plan is a living thing that will evolve necessitates a change of approach to business planning. An effective business plan is the response to the repeated asking of the questions what, why, how, who and how much. It is not a 20 – 30 page form to fill in for the benefit of a bank manager or some venture capitalist, who will probably never fully read it. A business plan should help you, not hinder you, in doing business. If traditional business planning doesn’t work for you, it’s time to embrace the new paradigm of continuous business planning.

My Business Could Do Even Better With Effective Planning – If you are one of the lucky few whose business has thrived despite an absence of traditional business planning, then I say a sincere well done. I hope that you can say the same thing in five years time.

Business life expectancy in Britain and across Europe and indeed the world are in rapid decline. A study done at the end of the eighties and then again as we marched into the new Millennium showed that life expectancy had more than halved for British businesses in those ten years, from an average of 9.7 years to 4.1 years. Just because a company once enjoyed market leadership does not mean that its future is assured. Many high street institutions have fallen victim to the recent recession. Five years ago it was inconceivable that UK retail institutions like Clinton Cards, Game, Borders, Barratts, T J Hughes, Habitat, Focus DIY, Oddbins, Ethel Austin, Principles, Allied Carpets, Woolworths, MFI and Zavvi/Virgin Megastore would all be either out of business or teetering on the brink of oblivion in 2012. Yet that is exactly what has transpired.

Any business from the smallest to the greatest is not impervious to the winds of change. A new competitor, a technological breakthrough, new laws or simply changes in fashion and consumer preference can all re-write the future of a company regardless of how bright that future once seemed. It is precisely because these risks exist that business planning is critical. To survive in business is extremely hard, but failing to effectively plan for the future or adapt to current realities surely makes it impossible and failure inevitable.

Of course, it is not necessarily the absence of plans that did for these companies but the quality of their plans and most especially the quality of their implementation. Even a poor plan vigorously executed is preferable to the finest planning and research left to rot in a drawer. Continuous business planning is effective business planning because it emphasizes implementation and regular reviews of real results as part of what should be a continual process of improving company performance rather than simply attempting to predict the future and wringing our hands when our prophecy fails to come true. We believe, like Peter Drucker, that the best way to predict the future is to create it.

Planning Is Essential In A Chaotic World – We sometimes feel small and insignificant as we try against all odds to translate our dreams into business reality. It’s easy to feel all at sea when we consider some of the challenges we face. However, whilst it is true that we cannot control the direction of the wind, we can adjust our sails and change the direction of the rudder. Difficult and challenging circumstances may come in our lives, but we can control the outcome of these circumstances by choosing which path to take.

The truth is that we are fundamentally achievement orientated as human beings. When this is taken away, we lose much of the energy and motivation that propels us forward. There have been numerous studies carried out on life expectancy rates after retirement, which show that when clearly defined goals and daily action moving in the direction of those goals are removed from our lives, the result is literally fatal. The individuals studied who failed to replace their career goals with a new focus for their retirement simply shriveled up and died. The implications for small business owners are clear. Those business owners with clear goals who take action daily that propels them in the direction of their goals are far more likely to thrive and survive than those who take any old goal that comes along or move from day to day with no defined objective other than survival.

It seems to me that precisely because life is so chaotic and challenging that effective planning is essential. Without continuous business planning, our businesses and the small business owners that work in them may find that bit by bit they are atrophying and on their way to becoming another business failure statistic.

There undoubtedly exists an antipathy for business planning felt by many small business owners. Clearly, this cannot be fully explained by the lack of a “planning gene”, but it equally cannot be fully justified by the reasons most commonly put forward by small business owners to not engage in the business planning process. These reasons must be critically re-evaluated and a commitment made to a continual and never ending process of improving the condition of their small businesses. Without such a commitment, the future for small businesses in the UK is uncertain.

Thirteen Elements of Effective Planning

All plans are not good plans. In fact, even good plans can fail. We cannot predict the future – we can only imagine it imperfectly. In our companies and organizations, effective planning is a social activity. Deciding on a strategic planning process as a group, rather than as an individual, adds even greater complexity to an already complex task. Collaborative and effective planning techniques, then, require 13 essential elements.

1. Effective and Strategic Planning Process

First, effective planning requires a process, and that strategic planning process should include the remaining 12 elements of good planning. In collaborative team planning, that process must be structured and disciplined in order to be efficient and thorough. Without a process, your planning techniques will be awkward, inefficient and often insufficient.

2. Effective Planning Techniques: An Envisioned Future / Objective

When we envision the future, we must describe it clearly and provide specific measurements in order to judge our success. To this end, the objective of our effective planning techniques is goal we envision attaining in the future. Objectives must be clear to all involved. They must also have a scope that is commensurate with the span of control of those involved with the effective planning process. An objective that is not achievable by those tasked with developing a plan is, obviously, doomed to failure. Objectives must also be measurable. Without measurements of success, there is no means of establishing whether or not the objective was achieved, and your strategic planning process will be flawed.

3. Dynamic, Adaptable Planning

In terms of effective planning, “dynamic” means that plans are adaptable, in two ways. First, the act of effective planning considers the current and predicted environment and adapts the plan accordingly. Second, in the strategic planning process, plans must be devised in such a way so that they are not overly detailed. Effective planning ensures that your plans can adapt to changes that occur while the plan is being executed.

4. Iterative Improvements

Effective planning at your organization will also be iterative. By “iterative,” we mean that a plan will improve continuously from one iteration, or version, to another before it is executed in the strategic planning process. The iterative nature of planning supports its adaptive or dynamic nature. Iteration can be sped up by an effective planning technique known as “Red Teaming.” In Red Teaming, a group of individuals outside the planning effort are invited to criticize the plan or expose its weaknesses, acting as a form of rapid iteration and improvement.

5. Effective Planning Requires that You Learn from Experience

A complex and rapidly changing environment demands the ability to rapidly learn from the changes in that environment. Even the most well-educated and trained organization will soon become obsolescent as changes in the environment eventually overwhelm it. Good organizational planning requires sophisticated and effective planning techniques that the organization learns continually, through interaction with its environment and the execution of its plans.

6. Means to Achieve / Course of Action

The central element of all effective planning techniques is the Course of Action (COA). These are the actual tasks that must be completed, whether in parallel, in series, or a combination of both, to achieve the goal. For the most part, in a strategic planning process, the Course of Action, for simple plans, is intuitive or even obvious. However, for most organizations, plans may require great detail. Therefore, an effective planning process must be flexible enough to handle both simple and detailed plans. Effective planning processes should have the ability to repeat the planning process at successively lower levels in the organization, while supporting the objectives of the overall plan.

7. Decentralized Effective Planning

Another effective planning technique is the decentralization of plans, closely related to the flexible and successively repeatable nature of the Course of Action. Effective planning teams should not plan beyond their scope or expertise. In other words, the executive team of a large corporation should not develop the details of a strategic planning process to replace a main server in their IT infrastructure. Such a task is both out of their scope and, most likely, their expertise.

8. Individual Accountability

The scope and detail of effective planning is concluded when each task within a Course of Action is assigned to a single individual, not a team, to complete. Without individual accountability to each task and each plan, there is a significant risk of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and ultimately, failure.

9. Effective Planning Techniques Support Initiative and Good Judgment

General George S. Patton said that plans “[...] should be made by those who are going to execute them.” Decentralization and accountability go far in supporting the success of effective planning techniques. However, when a strategic planning process is developed by the team responsible for accomplishing the plan’s objective, the overall quality and likelihood of creating a successful plan improves exponentially.

10. Consider Resources

Effective planning means not committing to or wasting resources unnecessarily. In a strategic planning process, planners must determine the appropriate targets or objectives and focus resources upon those objectives. Because resources are often limited, prioritizing and planning successive phases of implementation may be necessary.

11. Assess Risk: Leadership Responsibility

Resources are considered carefully at every level of effective planning. Furthermore, the assessment of objectives, threats and resources are critical steps in every strategic planning process that, when taken together, form the basic risk assessment for any plan. Without the necessary resources to either avoid or mitigate the threats to accomplishing an objective, the risks in undertaking that plan should be given due consideration by the leadership within the organization. Because risk is often necessary, the final decision to execute the plan is left to its leaders, not the planning team.

12. Participatory and Cognitively Diverse

Isolating planning in a single individual or a group of individuals without the benefit of field experience and a diversity of knowledge, skills, and abilities is a recipe for failure. The world we live in is increasingly complex. Problem-solving in our complex world requires teams of cognitively diverse individuals contributing their unique knowledge to form a combination of effective planning techniques. If planning is conducted by a single individual or by groups of people with similar knowledge, skills and abilities, the qualities necessary to solve complex problems and to create an innovative strategic planning process will be absent.

13. The Most Effective Plans are Simple

The more complex a design, the more likely it will fail. As Statistical Process Control and Six Sigma methodologies instruct, the greater the number of steps in a process, the greater the potential for a defect. That is why it is critical that the planning process remains simple. Simplicity is not just about minimizing the number of tasks, it’s about making sure that each task is clearly defined through answering some simple questions: “who will do what and when.”

There is a paradox at work in effective preparation. It is simply this: that our human tendency is to implement plans rigidly while the purpose of a plan, in light of the complexity and constant change in the world, is to define objectives and establish a point of departure to react to change. The paradox of the strategic planning process is that effective planning does not involve merely creating a list of sequenced tasks, but establishing a constantly evolving problem-solving process that adapts and thrives in the environment.