How to Plan Ahead for Failure

"Failure is inevitable, stupidity is just an option."

When I saw the water leaking from the ceiling in our main floor bathroom — leaving ugly, yellow stains and buckled sheetrock tape in its wake — I knew I’d made a serious error in judgment 10 years prior: I hadn’t planned to fail.

Sure enough, upon further inspection, the washing machine in the laundry room directly above was spewing rusty water onto the tiled floor and down through the walls to the bathroom below. What a mess. A soon to be expensive mess.

It could have been avoided had I planned to fail.

I probably could not have avoided the malfunction of the machine. After years of near daily use, it had reached its life expectancy date. While the timing was a surprise, the inevitability shouldn’t have been. The problem lay in a decision that I made the first day it was installed just short of 10 years ago.

Instead of planning for its failure, I acted as if it would live forever.

When asked if I wanted to put a water pan under it, I declined. It probably cost extra, or would have delayed the installation in some way, or maybe I’d just never seen how much water a damaged machine can produce. Whatever my reasoning, I made a decision that now will cost me plenty.

They say that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” All I know is this: I’m going to get better at planning to fail.

I’m already thinking about other appliances in the house that have expiration dates. Do I have safeguards in place for that inevitable day when they quit working like they did on the showroom floor? I’ve got a water heater in the attic. Have I planned sufficiently for its failure? That will be a fun day.

What about as a leader? Am I planning enough to fail?

Am I spending enough time thinking about succession plans and things with expiration dates? Or am I sticking my head in the sand and pretending like everything will just last forever. The best time to make a good decision is before a lack of foresight costs you more than you can afford to pay.

How about personally? Do I have a plan for failure?

What am I going to do when I’m tempted, when I’m discouraged, when I feel like throwing in the towel? You know it’s going to happen. The exact day and circumstances may be surprising, but the inevitability shouldn’t be. What will be my safety net? How will I keep the overflow from messing up those around me? If I don’t have a plan for failure, the stain and destruction may cost more than I had bargained for.

This time when I purchased a new washing machine, I chipped in a few extra bucks for the floor pan. That baby looks great right now, but it’s going to quit working someday. I’ll be ready for it this time.

Failure is inevitable, stupidity is just an option.

Where do you need to plan to fail?

Greg Surratt
Greg Surratt is the founding pastor of Seacoast Church, one of the earliest adopters of the multi-site model. Located in Mt. Pleasant, SC, Seacoast has been recognized by various media as an innovative and influential thought leader in future strategies for church growth and development. Greg is also a founding board member of the Association of Related Churches.