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“No plan survives first contact with the enemy: A piece of military wisdom deriving from a formulation by the nineteenth-century Prussian military commander Helmuth van Moltke. He wrote in 1880, “No plan of operations reaches with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main force.”
no plan survives contact with the enemy Military plans always need to be changed once they are enacted in real-life military situations. The saying emphasizes the need for flexibility, as opposed to strict adherence to strategy. It is attributed to Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, a 19th-century Prussian field marshal.
His thesis can be summed up by two statements, one famous and one less so, translated into English as "No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main strength" (or "no plan survives contact with the enemy") and "Strategy is a system of expedients". Austro-Prussian War
Jan 10, 2015 · “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” This insight sparked Moltke’s development of a new Theory of War that would actually function in this turbulent new type of warfare. Moltke...
- What Does It Mean?
- Why Do We Believe It’S Important?
- How Do We Put It Into Practice?
A Prussian military strategist from the 1880s, Helmuth von Moltke, was facing the challenge of adapting to a changing world. At the time, technology innovations like new machine guns, combined with growing army size, were transforming war. These evolutions dramatically increased the complexity of battles, making them almost impossible to predict a battle outcome and therefore plan accordingly. On this basis, Helmuth came to the conclusion that sharing intentions as opposed to detailed orders would empower his subordinates to take initiatives in the battlefield and better adapt to unpredictable events. Deterministic plans were no longer relevant, and adaptive strategies should be applied instead. Since then, this concept has been applied to broader contexts including business strategy. Any plan, regardless of the area, would not survive in the real world unless built for uncertainties.
Traditional approaches to digital strategy and transformation typically follow an “Analyse, Plan, Do” approach, focused on building certainty through planning before execution. Such ‘Waterfall’ plans assume certainties and the ability to predict outcomes – which tend to be the root cause for failure. These plans often turn out to be irrelevant as soon as exposed to the real world, which ‘digital’ has made even more complex, open and unpredictable. Instead, we believe that strategic plans should accommodate uncertainties, dictating a focus on the next part of the plan, informed by feedback from the real world and allowing for a pivot.
To deliver value at speed, we make sure that our work is adapted to complex situations. Once we have identified a way forward in an initial phase, we focus on design, experimentations and learning form the real world using lean startup and agile ways of working. The outcome is a Proof of Concept, Proof of Solution or Prototype which prove the value or dictate a pivot before scale out. This is critical to ensure that what we deliver will address the problem in the business context. As an example, for a pioneering MedTech client, we developed a new commercial strategy that identified and tested blue ocean uncontested revenue streams. Instead of developing a multi-year implementation plan, we focused on testing the value proposition with new target customers to validate the strategy. Within six weeks, we tested the new strategy with potential customer, proving the path forward and informing the product roadmap and pricing strategies.
Sep 22, 2020 · No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. As quoted in Donnybrook : The Battle of Bull Run, 1861 (2005) by David Detzer, p. 233 Strategy is a system of expedients; it is more than a mere scholarly discipline.
Apr 08, 2021 · Kriegsgechichtliche Einzelschriften (1880); often quoted as, ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy’ Strategy is a system of expedients; it is more than a mere scholarly discipline. D. J. Hughes (ed.) Moltke on the Art of War (1993) ch. 3
Today, “no plan survives contact with the enemy” is the popular reconfiguration of this concept. As Kenny noted, Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower had similar views. Churchill said, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential,” while Eisenhower said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”