The No-Plan Plan

One evening a couple of weeks ago I found myself in deep conversation with a couple of people. Hank and Julia and I were discussing the notion of the Plan-life and its’ counterpart, the No-Plan life, reflecting on how the notion of these two impacted our own lives.

The discussion continued sporadically over the next couple of days, and the more I’ve thought about it since I got home, the more I think there is a grain – or more than a grain – of truth to the matter.

Most of us live Plan-lives. This includes myself, and I’ll readily admit that I’m more comfortable – or perhaps more secure? – with a life that has a clear plan for the path ahead. I know where I’m heading – or want to head – and I know most of the things I’ll need to do to get there. I even have a notion of what will happen once I achieve what I’ve set out to do.

After our conversations I’ve increasingly begun to appreciate the notion of the No-Plan life. It’s something that can be forced upon you by external forces (just like I’ve felt a pang of excitement when lay-offs have been in the air at places I’ve worked, something along the lines of ”whee, I might be FORCED to throw my life up in the air and find a new track forward!”). It’s something that you can choose for yourself (quit your day job?) and sometimes a combination of the two.

The thing is, there’s very little room for newness in the Plan-life. While I might very well be nearing the completion of what I’ve set out to do, it’s moving along a pre-planned path towards that goal, without many external, non-planned influences.

Un-Planning your life and your processes, however, will let new variables influence everything. Not only is it a bit scary – and scarier the more you like to have control over your life, like I do – but it’s also liberating and exciting; not to mention creatively rewarding.

The key, as I see it, is to find the balance. Having lived the UnPlanned life, I feel there needs to be a moment when I stop what I’m doing, take all the influences and variables and contacts and notions and start again, in the Plan-life way that is guaranteed to let me achieve a result within a reasonable amount of time.

Let the No-Plan into your life! And keep the Plan life in your back pocket, to pull out whenever you feel the need to accomplish what you want to accomplish!

… Hank had this to say about the post:

I would add a few thoughts:  1. The no plan is the punctuation in a planned life. Without punctuation or parsing, the plan arcs run all together. 2.  The no plan stage is the  only truly open and free moment we have to explore  different directions. Usually, we are following so many plan arcs that our actions and goals are highly circumscribed.  3. Agreed! Be open to the No-Plan, though it is scary and risky. (edited)

Mark Harris also chimed in:

Good post @simon and something I struggle with a lot. Maybe not No-Plan, but going with the plan that presents itself, even if different than the plan I had (which often happens to me), kind of learning to say yes. Thoughts on this trickling into my own slowly-developing post…

… and Claire Marshall had this to add:

I don’t think it is a choice between a Planned life and an Un-planned life rather than you need to plan time for being Un-planned – if that makes sense. It is hard to manifest Serendipity or chance encounters when you always have a place to be and a time to get there. But then just as much if you don’t know what you want or at least the direction how will you see the opportunities that come to you. I believe that you should plan to have pockets of adventure, and allow a little bit of space for the world to surprise you. Now the trouble is to be able to do this you need to be able to do a few things. 1. Be ok not being busy, just wandering, looking. This is hard for most people as we feel like we are ‘wasting time’ if we are not doing anything productive. 2. Be ok with being on your own. Zygmunt Beaumant at a recent conference I went to spoke at length about how we dive into our pockets for our smartphones the minute that we are bored or feel awkward in a social situation and 3. I think we need to be curious and brave. To ask about something, to be genuinely interested in what people have to tell you, and to ask more questions. This has been the one sure fire way that I have been able to “manage serendipity” .

Simon Staffans is a content and format developer and media strategist, employed by MediaCity Finland. He works with multiplatform storytelling, transmedia development procedures and great stories. Contact him at simon.staffans(at) or follow him on @simon_staffans.

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