“An Idiot with a Plan Can Beat a Genius Without a Plan”

January 11, 2019 in
By Marni Falcone

As we shared in last week’s blog post Examining the Truth Behind Truismsthis year, we are going to do just that. We’re kicking off 2019 by examining the truism ‘an idiot with a plan can beat a genius without a plan’ and see if that’s true. As a seasoned project manager and working mom, planning is close to my heart—and takes up a good amount of my time at work and home! So, you can probably guess my stance on this truism. 

At the turn of the 21st century, we’ve made some of the greatest technological advances of our lifetime. The geniuses behind these advances – Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk, to name a few—are the world’s modern-day prodigies. In addition to their brilliance, creativity, and foresight, they also had something else in common—they are risk takers, they’ve failed (big time), and most importantly, they were all transformational in that they found a way for their disciples to genuinely believe in their vision.

But how did these dreamers bring their visions to fruition? I would argue that even the most profound ideas would never be realized without adequate planning. Selling books on a newborn world wide web in the early 1990s via Amazon.com? Ludicrous! Packing thousands of digital songs in the palm of your hand via the iPod in the early 2000s? Absurd—I am (was) perfectly happy with my Walkman, thank you very much.

Planning comes into play at every level of an organization. At the highest levels, strategic planning provides an overall vision and direction, performance objectives, an approach to managing risks, and key organizational structures, policies, and processes. We’ll focus on these this week. In the coming weeks, we’ll dive into more specific tactical methods and tools of the project planning process.

In research, the planning-performance controversy is one that has yielded mixed results; sometimes planning is shown to positively impact organizational performance, but occasionally it has shown to have no influence at all. A meta-analysis by Brinckmann, Grichnik, and Kapsa (2010)[i] examined the last 20 years of empirical research on this topic, and found that planning does positively impact business performance.So, let’s break it down and see where the prodigies or the planners have the advantage when it comes to organizational planning staples.

Setting Vision. The geniuses have this one. When it comes to generating a unique, progressive and clear vision for the future, it’s no contest. However, oftentimes, these grand ideas can be unrealistic or unattainable for the current state of the organization. This is where the visionaries engage the planners. Planning can help establish the proper infrastructure, milestones, and resources to get the organization where it needs to be to so it can execute on the vision.

Organizational Resources. The planners have this one when it comes to ensuring organizational resources are adequately allocated to bring the vision to fruition—from human capital to costs and budgets. Planning is an essential function for ensuring the organization has the proper resources to launch the vision, sustain market fluctuations, recover from crashes—like the dot-com crash of 2000—and product failures, and bring a successful product to market.

Managing Risk. No one manages risk better than planners. One of the most important components of organizational success is proactively identifying, communicating, and mitigating risks. Yes, big ideas are often risky, but planning isn’t the opposite of taking risk, it simply provides the support to recover in the event of anticipated roadblocks. Think of an acrobat jumping onto a trapeze. Whoever laid down that giant padded cushion to catch their possible (or even probable) fall saw that risk coming from a mile away. Effectively managing risk helps to minimize failure—not completely eliminate it.

Don’t be tempted to think that meticulous planning offers a one-size-fits-all solution to organizational success; planning does not come without its own set of hazards. Some might argue that overly strict planning can stifle creativity and limit flexibility—and it can! Many organizations—like Polaroid, Blockbuster, Kodak[ii]—have gone bankrupt due to their lack of innovation. But the truth is, we need the planners, but we also need the prodigies. It’s about balance and integration. Adequate planning that allows organizations to stay agile in the face of changes in vision, resources and schedule allows the prodigies the room to be visionaries and creative disruptors. In the rest of this month’s blogs, we’ll continue exploring this topic and take a closer look at the tools and techniques commonly used by organizational planning experts and practitioners.


About the Author: Marni Falcone is an Engagement Manager at FMP, an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, and a selection and assessment nerd. When she isn’t leading competency modeling, organizational assessment or learning and development projects, she loves spending time with her growing family and friends, taking a Barre3 class, or rooting for her favorite sports teams—Go Caps!


[i]Brinckmann, J., Grichnik, D., & Kapsa, D. (2010). Should entrepreneurs plan or just storm the castle? A meta-analysis on contextual factors impacting the business planning-performance relationship in small firms. Journal of Business Venturing, 25(1), pp. 24-40.

[ii]Thangavelu, Poonkulali (2018, October 15). Companies that Went Bankrupt from Innovation Lag. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/072115/companies-went-bankrupt-innovation-lag.asp