Plan A, B, C, D & perspectives on this time


Like everyone else in the world, the last month has been very weird. Scary. Sad.

I think I’ve heard the word “unprecedented” an unprecedented number of times. But it isn’t y’know, unprecedented. There are precedents, Florence in 1340’s comes to my mind, just as the Black Plague struck. This does not come to the minds of anyone on TV, however. To anyone alive today, it is unprecedented in the scope of our lives. To most people, it is unexpected.

But I can’t say that it’s been unexpected for me, because there are plenty of tragically predictable things happening the world over right now. Things are looking much more like I’d expect than they did a few months ago. Frankly, I’m just surprised it took this long.

I do not share a desire to be willingly blind to what’s going on, or what comes next. And I do not plan to be only optimistic. Instead I plan to continue to do what I’ve been doing for many years now, because it continues to work for me. I balance optimism with a well-informed pessimism, I bet on the best and plan for the worst.

On the old version of this website, I had several posts about this strategy. But no one really seemed to get it at the time, and I only got yelled at about it. That’s what happens when you accidentally bump into other people’s well reinforced illusions, they defend them by attacking you. I’ll probably get yelled at a bunch for posting this, so if you feel the urge to tell me how wrong I am coming up, feel free to leave now and spare us both the grief.

For several years now, I’ve been working a four-part plan for the future. Each is a different scenario, and only one is something I actually know will happen.
  • Plan A = A is for AWESOME!!! This is if everything goes as beautifully as I can imagine. The fates align, my dreams come true, and the best possible outcomes occur. This is my upper bound.
  • Plan B = B is for BAD. This is if everything goes as badly as I believe it probably will. The structural flaws we humans have built into our interactions (governments, economies, technologies, cultures, etc) don’t fail all at once, but given enough time everything we know crumbles because it wasn’t really designed to be sustainable. We live in a finite world with natural laws, and we forgot to design to stay within those bounds.
  • Plan C = C is for CATASTROPHIC. This is Zombie Apocalypse territory, the complete breakdown of social order and human institutions. I don’t believe this will happen, this is simply my lower bound. It is the edge of what I see as possible in my lifetime: solar flare events fry all our electronics, pandemic when wasting disease jumps from deer to humans (the Zombie part), unfriendly alien visitors arrive, WWIII happens, Skynet-level AI forms, asteroid collision, etc. The specific trigger isn’t my focus, as it could come from all sorts of causes that you’d probably rather I didn’t go on about too much ;)
  • Plan D = D is for DEATH. This is the only thing I’m 100% sure will happen. Someday, I will die. I have no idea when or why or how, but that part doesn’t matter so much when my focus is making sure that it happens well. I’d like to ensure that those that I love can continue without me, and that I’m leaving the world as cleanly as possible.

It is possible to pursue each of these at the same time. I know because that’s what I’ve been doing for years now, this is my decision making method. Every major life decision gets evaluated against these four possible trajectories. I’m not saying that I always make good decisions or that things always go my way, only that this way of looking at things has been really helpful to me. And it continues to be helpful.

As we approached 2020, Plan A style outcomes were looking more likely. Today, it’s Plan C that seems to be where we’re headed. Reality and perception, territory and map, outcome and understanding — these are different.

The reason I sunset all my clients and retooled my businesses last September was for Plan A.
The reason I had N95 masks on hand before the Coronavirus crisis was for Plan C.
The reason I have a will is for Plan D.

But I don’t think this is the end of the world, and I don’t think I will die from COVID-19. Both could happen, and both seem more likely than the dangerously optimistic “V-shaped” recovery you hear economists talking about.

My take is that things will probably turn out to be worse than we thought but not as awful as we feared. That’s how things tend to turn out for most humans most of the time throughout history, and I don’t think you and I are all that different. That’s why I give Plan B the best odds, and the most allocation of resources: time, money, and mental energy.

What’s next? Instability, and lots of it. From where I stand, it’s very likely that the Empire of America is on it’s way out. Europe too will no longer be a center of power. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but the world that we had isn’t coming back.

I continue to prepare for our new world to be worse than before, but I also continue to place my bets on it becoming an even better one than would have been possible otherwise. In a time of instability like now, there are opportunities for improvement that would have been overlooked as too revolutionary or too costly or too difficult before. Once the revolution is happening and the costs are already being paid and the difficulties are widespread, there is less to lose.

Here’s to our collective creativity and willingness to endure! Let’s aim for that! And let’s be ready for less than that.

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