Control Is An Illusion

Command and Control are important parts of the military apparatus.  They tend to be important for professional football teams too.  The play is radioed in from the sideline and the quarterback delivers the message to all present.  It is situationally optimal and protective of resources, people and time.

Notice how all the participants in football and the military are aware of the system and tend to know that there personal chances of success rely on it.  It does not translate well into other situations.

For example, the ministry of the environment has been criticized for not controlling things adverse to the environment.  There is a non-real world assumption – the ministry can control events in the environment.

The ministry could influence how the operators behave but they cannot control them.  Truth be told the operators cannot control every variable, (weather, natural disaster, unexpected actions of employees, sabotage) so the ministry, operating remotely, has no hope.

The idea of control is a childish one.

Adults accept that the world will unfold in as yet unseen ways.  They like control and some people offer it.  To assume there can be control is a mistake.  The better technique is influence and adaptation.

How does the idea of control affect your personal life and the financial plan part of it?

If you have been doing it for a while, you will see that control is not possible.  Influence is, but control is not.  So, how should one proceed?

There are several simple steps:

  1. Know what do you want, when and with what.
  2. What tactics, products, and methods tend to work towards accomplishing these?
  3. How will you know when it is not happening ?
  4. What, if any, options were built into the original method?
  5. Revise the implementation or change the goals.

The issue is that you can influence the future outcome, but only successfully when you know what you want and know some ways to get it.  The most important skills to develop is awareness and adaptation.

Successful people adapt better than others.  The do so by starting with the view that what they are doing now is their best effort given what they know and can find out.  They watch what is happening and make mid-course adjustments.  Most of those adjustments were prepared as Plan B or C when they started.

They value flexibility and they pre-create choices. Diversity? Building in flexibility costs a little and when your original plan works the price is wasted.  When you need it the price is insignificant.

I have a client who deals with several suppliers for a key resource.  That costs volume discounts, but if one of them is on strike, he is not out of business.  Another has very large raw material inventories because, “Sometimes they are hard to get and I cannot build our product out of dollar bills.”

You will do better if you work at awareness and adaptation skills instead of control skills.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.


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