Solid Foundation, Flexible Perimeter

Every good plan has two parts: a solid foundation and a flexible perimeter.

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  Commonly attributed to Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, this quote teaches us an important reality of strategy: nothing ever goes according to plan.

This raises the question: if nothing ever goes according to plan, what’s the point of planning at all?

Gameplanning is a tricky thing because the purpose of a plan is to be prepared, but it’s simply impossible to prepare for everything.  And there’s a planning paradox at play here: the more you prepare for specific “what-if” scenarios, the worse you may be equipped for unexpected outcomes.

There’s an excellent book by Alex Banayan called The Third Door, in which the author meets with elite performers and tries to unlock the keys to their success.  The book contains a section in which the author interviews legendary producer Quincy Jones.  Quincy shares the following excellent advice:

You want your plan to have a solid foundation and a flexible perimeter.

This is an incredible concept that I apply whenever I plan.  A good plan needs two key pieces:

  1. A solid foundation, which defines what you want to do.  The foundation is generic and unwaveringly true.  It describes how you’ll want to act regardless of what happens in the field.  A good foundation is your “north star” that always points you in the right direction.
  2. A flexible perimeter, which describes how you want to do it.  The perimeter outlines how to act in specific scenarios, and of course, you’ll want to act differently depending on what options are available.  It’s usually impossible to prepare for all possible scenarios, which is why your perimeter needs to be flexible.

To use military speak: your foundation is your strategy, and your perimeter is your tactics.  Or to paraphrase in business jargon: your foundation is your vision, and your perimeter is your mission.
This solid foundation / flexible perimeter paradigm is used across all walks of life.  As an example: if you’re preparing for a public speech, you’re better off memorizing the key talking points (the foundation) rather than every single word (the perimeter).  The same applies to Jiu-Jitsu gameplanning: while it’s okay to tailor your plan to specific opponents, the general idea of how you want to perform should be the same regardless of who you’re facing.
Here's a challenge for you: recall the last time you saw someone with a really bad plan.  Odds are, their plan was probably too loose in its foundation, and too rigid in its perimeter.

I’ll wrap this up with another quote on planning, this time from Dwight Eisenhower: “Plans are worthless, but planning is essential.”

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