Issue 231: 2020 04 30: Letter to the Editor

30 April 2020

Letter to the Editor


By Soren Hilligsoe

In the 23 April 2020 edition, Robert Kilconner discusses the topic of an exit strategy.  Presumably, this is in relation to the current lockdown caused by the covid-19 virus.  In the article he quotes the 19th century Prussian general, Helmuth von Moltke the elder’s famous comment about planning, and Mr Kilconner claims that the only answer is to wait, watch and react.

My friend and colleague – and regular contributor to the Shaw Sheet – Richard Pooley and I used the same quote in our book Why Doesn’t He Use a Spoon? (a guide to international business negotiation*) and interpreted his words to the effect that it is important to be able to adapt your plan according to the circumstances.  We also quoted another distinguished general, Dwight Eisenhower, who said that “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable”.  Both of these gentlemen seem to believe in the importance of planning, as we do in our world of working with professional negotiators.

How can planning help you?  Well, let me take the example of two countries and their different approaches to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.  My own country – Denmark – acted very early.  On 10 March the Government announced that we would go into lockdown from the next day.  Two weeks ago, they were able to ease the restrictions somewhat to allow kindergarten and primary school children to go back and to allow hairdressers and tattoo parlours to reopen.

Personally, I only went for a haircut.  Today (28 April) the total number of deaths in Denmark from (or perhaps with) the corona virus is 427 in a population of 5.8m.  Sweden reacted very late.  The ridiculously politically-correct Swedes found Denmark’s actions laughable (just as we Danes shook our heads in disbelief when they wanted to change the stories about Pippi Longstocking because they were racist).  What is the result?  Well, at the time of writing, the death toll in Sweden is 2,274 in a population of 10.2m.

The point I would like to make is that when you have a plan and are able to act and adapt your plan according to the development of the situation, you are more likely to succeed than if you wait, watch and react.  You may even run out of penguins if you do.

After all, Benjamin Franklin was right when he said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing for fail”.

Soren Hilligsoe

*easily available to Shaw Sheet readers from Mr Bezos’ emporium… and much more cheaply than from our Danish publishers.


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