All people consistently short-change the future in order to get present gains (or some people, sometimes – doesn’t matter). I don’t mean the kind of monetary things, where you will eat one candy today rather than a bag tomorrow – I mean in terms of time.
What you don’t do in the beginning will bite you in the ass later
Take any project. The stuff you don’t do well in the beginning because you were so anxious to move on or could not be bothered to do WILL turn out to be a big deal in the end if things don’t go according to plan. And things never go according to plan.
The funniest thing is that when things go to hell, our natural reaction is to make more short-term tradeoffs looking for a quick fix (like add new methodologies, add more people, add more pressure).
Pay more attention in the beginning, before you are screwed. And if you are screwed, stop doing what you are doing, and give your project a real reboot.
Seek victory from the situation you choose to be in
Sun Tzu said: “A skilled commander seeks victory from the situation and does not demand it of his subordinates.” This seems to contradict my previous statement about planning, since plans as they are understood are pretty much about demanding something from other people.
Wrong. The way I interpret this, Sun Tzu is saying “don’t have a point in your plan which says you will perform at a superhuman level and thus succeed”. Superhuman performance is at best a bonus for plan for which you have done that preceding legwork to ensure that other things: the environment, the customers, the competition and the governance structures are just right so that screwing up a bit will not kill you. Die because you did not execute, not because you did not care to look at the situation you are entering.
What do you hate doing?
My points is, there are many things which are both unpleasant to do and very effective when done early enough. Here, early enough = voluntarily, not forced by the situation.
One of those things is thinking things through, writing them down and arranging ideas in order to explicitly clarify our own thinking.
We tend to like to think of ourselves as intelligent, thinking beings, but the extent of our thoughts is in fact often surprisingly shallow and random. We trust that we know while assuming many things.
For example, in research, it is easy to read promiscuously — and to believe that that by itself will help increase our understanding. But I doubt that it is true – leaving the development and synthesis of ideas to some random blink of genius is a doubtful idea.
Managers tend to be victims of their own success. As Andy Grove (long-time Intel CEO and president) notes: “Looking back over my own career, I have never made a tough change, whether it involved resource shifts or personnel moves, that I hadn’t wished I had made a year or so earlier. [...] This tendency is easy to see in others although we are prone to blindness when we do it ourselves.”
Make sure you fail for the right reasons
I don’t think I can put it better than how Ian Landsman put it:
“Here’s the big secret on how to do this and fail for the right reasons. Your pre-planning needs to be 100% focused on making your success or failure about the execution. So you need to plan away those things that are not execution related. It’s really not that hard to do. Make sure you can survive for enough time to see if it works out.”