The Difference Between Good Planning and Great Planning–a Lesson from Andy Reid

I haven’t been very open about it in the past (Editor’s Note: this is a lie), but I’m a big fan of the Kansas City Chiefs. I grew up in Arizona and root for all of the other local sports teams, but my parents are both from Kansas which is where the connection comes from. Apparently, all those early 1990’s games I watched with my dad stuck with me and those early painful playoff losses did nothing to dissuade me from choosing another team (brainwashing your kids can work!)

The Chiefs current coach is Andy Reid—by most accounts a very good coach who has had a lot of regular season success and a great career. He is a meticulous planner. He knows his own team’s strength and weaknesses and puts his players in the best position to succeed. Furthermore, he can watch another team and know where their strengths and weaknesses lie in order to exploit them. He has one fatal flaw, however, that keeps him from being a great coach.

Reid is notorious around the league for “scripting” the beginning of every game. That is, he plans the first 15 offensive plays for each week in advance. The main advantage to this approach is that the players get an entire week of practice to perfect those plays so they can run them quickly and efficiently on game day. When things go as planned it’s a thing of beauty and the Chiefs can jump out to an early lead where they are most comfortable. Watch out though when something unexpected happens–the situation can get ugly fast.

A tipped pass for an interception or bad snap can throw the entire “script” into chaos and suddenly I’m watching an option hand off on 3rd down with 11 yards to gain. In other words, the plan that was so meticulously laid out is no longer relevant for the situation that’s been presented, yet Reid stubbornly sticks to it anyway. Most infamously, he frequently maps out five minute offensive drives when there is only three minutes left on the game clock. Reid is one of the best game planners in the NFL, but his inability to adjust to a changing situation can at times render all of that work moot. I see the same mistake made all the time as people put together their financial plan.

A plan is a wonderful thing. The more time you put into thinking about your current situation and where you ultimately want to end up, the likelier it is that you will achieve it. But you’re kidding yourself if you think a long-term plan can be static. Your situation will change. Inherent in any great plan is a plan to make adjustments when necessary. You will frequently be pushed off the path throughout life, but having a clear vision on your values and your purpose is tremendously helpful in controlling your reaction and finding your way back.

In the meantime, I suppose I should start making plans on how to control my reaction when it all comes crashing down for the Chiefs (Note to self: bubble wrap the entire living room)