The passing of Queen Elizabeth II has given us a glimpse into the monarchy of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth nations that we haven’t had in 70 years. This includes proclaiming Prince Charles as King Charles III in a historic ceremony that was broadcast for the first time on television for all to see.
Most of the UK’s citizenry has never experienced history or pageantry quite like this, yet it seems the royal family, Parliament, and the entire nation have fallen in line and are doing their part. It’s almost as if the Ministry of Information’s now-ubiquitous phrase “keep calm and carry on” is echoing in their minds.
During this extraordinary time of mourning and transition, the course of action has somehow felt routine, as if it’s something that happens all the time. More than a year ago, I read an article about the UK government’s plan following the Queen’s demise. It was codenamed “Operation London Bridge,” and since the Queen’s passing, more of it has been revealed. It’s filled with remarkable details of the action required by the British state. Seemingly, nothing was left unplanned.
In any transition, there’s going to be some uncertainty regarding the future, but here I have to imagine that detailed planning has helped to create a sense of calm that’s allowed everyone to carry on. I highlight this not to trivialize the proceedings that we’re witnessing, but rather to emphasize the practical power of planning.
If the benefits of planning are obvious, then why do so many people have a hard time doing it? Planning is a cognitive skill that forms part of our executive function. It gives us the ability to think about the future and anticipate actions we’ll take to achieve a goal. While everyone has the ability to plan, how well we do it depends on a variety of brain functions, including neuroplasticity, myelinization, and synaptic connections. On top of those requirements, it also demands the desire and discipline to do it. In other words, it has to become a habit.
Good news! The brain can be trained and improved. According to many neuropsychologists, planning and executive function can be enhanced by building better habits. It’s a skill, and like other skills, planning is a matter of “use it or lose it.” Unfortunately, since it’s not part of many people’s business rituals, it’s frequently skipped or forgotten about. The more it’s skipped, the harder it is to do.
The same is true of negotiators. So many negotiators mistake situational familiarity with well-preparedness. Since they’ve seen the same type of negotiation time and again, they feel they don’t really need to plan. It’s like a football coach thinking that, due to all the games they’ve coached, they don’t need to plan for the upcoming game. Yet we do it every day. Lack of planning leads to lack of preparedness, which leads to frustration, suboptimal outcomes, or even no deals at all.
I can’t imagine how the ceremonies around the Queen’s passing would’ve gone had there been no planning. I’m sure they would’ve devolved into utter chaos, preventing the nation from properly mourning such a historic and revered figure. I know this is an odd lesson to highlight, but there’s only one way to keep calm and carry on: It’s through planning and preparation.
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