“Few people have any next, they live from hand to mouth without a plan, and are always at the end of the line.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poet

While in college working on my Master’s Degree, my mentor and friend, Owen W. Smith, said to me, “James, it’s never enough in life to have a ‘Plan B’.” If you’re going to stay ahead of the herd, you better at least have a ‘Plan C’ too.” I didn’t know what he meant then but I do now and it all comes back to the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.”

What happens when you don’t have at least a ‘Plan B’? Have you ever lost the information stored on your computer hard drive because you had no backup system? I know a number of people who have made that error, much to their chagrin. Have you ever had your ‘big plan’ go down in flames, leaving you feeling so devastated that you had no idea what to do next? I counsel many people who have made this mistake in the business and private sector.

If either of these scenarios has happened to you, I suggest that you consider the importance of learning to imagine ‘multiple possible futures.’ Does that sound like some science fiction jibber jabber? No. It’s actually a very good idea.

Imagine yourself coming to a three-way intersection where each turnoff is clearly marked with a large neon sign brightly proclaiming three intriguing destinations accompanied by the distance it will take you to get there. Your challenge is that you want to visit all of them. What do you do? You pull over to the side, kick your creativity in gear, and imagine what the end result for each of your three possible choices would both look and feel like as you briefly contemplate the journey to get there. Finally, you arrive at a decision – you now know your first destination. But wait! You have also determined your second and third choices. Now you have a backup for your backup.

What have you just done? You’ve accomplished far more than simply making a choice. You have successfully imagined multiple possible futures and, by doing so, given yourself a perceptual control of your future. At your deepest level, you have created a sense of control and therefore – self confidence. Plus, in a very short period of time, you have given yourself a general idea of how to get there. Whether you realize it or not, you have also prepared yourself for the worst case scenario of failing to reach your first destination by having two alternative plans – just in case.

That’s exactly why astronauts are put through such rigorous training. They have to be prepared for any eventuality by having a very large number of backup plans – just in case. Their lives depend on it, as does both your success and peace of mind.

Portfolio managers diversify. Successful executives always look at worst case scenarios and prepare for that eventuality. Hospitals have back-up generators – just in case. Skydivers carry an extra parachute – just in case.

Here’s a personal example of which my assistant recently made me aware. She said, “I’ve never met anyone who was so flexible. When you hit a barrier, you just choose another direction.”

My friend Owen made me think long and hard about having more than one backup plan. I was trained as an actor but – just in case – I learned as much as I could about technical theater. I also made a decision to study psychology, learn hypnosis, start a private practice and write but – just in case – I decided to develop and refine a one-man show. In order to have a wider palate to choose from, I also created a workshop for public consumption and then decided to move in the direction of business speaking. Oh, yes, making these decisions helped me grow and learn as well as challenging me to keep each possible future ‘tuned up’ and ready to use – just in case.

“Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”
-Richard C. Cushing, author, “Mission of the Teacher”

What is the point of my story? Given the condition of the world economy today, it might serve you to take the time to develop a ‘Plan C,’ a ‘Plan D’ and…

Here’s how to do it.

  1. List your top three goals or plans for the future.
  2. Briefly imagine them failing and ask yourself, “What backup plan can I make – just in case my original plan doesn’t work out?” That’s not negative thinking. That’s smart thinking.
  3. Visualize the end result of your backup plan.
  4. Now, work backwards and determine the steps you would need to take should you need to rely on ‘Plan B’ or -‘Plan C.’

Here’s another side benefit to imagining multiple futures. Every time you stretch your imagination you increase the possibility for your success. You might take Benjamin Franklin’s saying to heart: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”