Sunday, April 18, 2010

Failure To Plan Is Planning To Fail

      President Obama has announced a change in NASA’s mission; he has decided that the agency should bypass the moon, and concentrate instead on developing the necessary equipment for deep space exploration of the solar system.
      He has also decided to rely on private contractors to handle near-earth orbit functions – for example, ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station. In this way, NASA can concentrate and what it does best, the application of science to space technology, and beaucoup jobs will hopefully be created in the private sector.
      Not surprisingly, opposition to the plan surfaced immediately – Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, criticized the decision; on the other hand, “Buzz Aldrin, the second moonwalker, endorsed it. Congress has yet to weigh in on the plan.
      The announcement brings into focus the different styles of planning.
      Under the previous Constellation plan, NASA aimed for the moon as a final destination; beyond that no further exploration was anticipated. I will call that a targeted plan.
      Under the new plan, hardware and software is to be developed for heading into deeper space. No definite final destination has been named; it may be an asteroid, a Martian moon, or Mars itself, depending upon the course of the system as it progresses. Whichever destination is chosen, the equipment will be capable not only of getting there, but also of going on to even further destinations. I will call this an open-ended plan.
      These two types of planning are representative of the way all life planning is done, although the targeted plan is more common. A teenager may have a target of becoming a doctor or an attorney, but as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” The future psychiatrist falls in love, marries and raises a family. A schoolmate of mine was determined to become a mortician; he wound up selling insurance.
      I believe the two styles complement each other. I know it would be hard to sell this to an ambitious parent with a child about to enter college, but a delay might be a good idea. I submit that in this case an open-ended plan should be in place before a targeted plan. In the event the child is undecided about his future calling, time off from schooling is not a bad idea. Better to delay for a year or two than to be locked in to a disliked occupation.
      The parent should ask, “What do I really want for my child?” I would suggest the following might be a reasonable answer, “A happy, competent, productive adult.”
      And how does one go about achieving that? Formal education, of course, as a basis: reading, writing, arithmetic, science, music, art, etc. Informal education should include immersion in normal life situations, with the non-interfering parent standing by to prevent permanent, not necessarily minor, disappointment.
      In the meantime, a relatively short-term targeted plan can be assembled. A doctor? Sure, if the student appears to have an aptitude and requisite personality. A carpenter? Why not? A stevedore? If that’s the extent of the student’s capability. The hard part is to let the student choose without interference by the parent’s ambition. The “stage mother” should be out of the picture.
      In many life situations, targeted planning is the preferred system: choice of college, business planning, systems design, etc. But even in situations such as these, an open-ended Plan B should be at the ready. And the value of having a cradle-to-the-grave open-ended plan should never be underestimated.
      Lennon was right, and I believe Obama was too.
      Sometimes we even attribute a visible event to the action of an invisible entity when we know there is no invisible entity present. For example, we say, “It is raining.” Our senses can see, hear and feel rain, but no matter how hard we try, they cannot detect “it.”
      Introduction – The Spirit Runs Through It

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