Jan. 18, 2008
By Ken Krayeske • 12:45 AM EST
Q: What exactly is the 40-Year Plan? A: Many different things...
How does one follow up a year in which one visited Stonehenge, the Pyramids at Giza, and the Hartford Police Department lockup?
I'm not sure, but I'm guessing that 2008 will be interesting. For years, my travel bug begged me to England and Egypt. As a child I sang both "London Bridge" and "KingTut," and this past year, I stood in front of both.
Once you've reached goals you held for decades, what do you do? I have some ideas. The first and foundational one comes from an evening I spent at Dublin's Malahide Castle with a friend named John and the Artic Monkeys, the alt-rock sound of June 2007.
John, a Connecticut businessman visiting his wife, a law prof, in Dublin, happened upon free tickets to the show. While on the train to Malahide Castle, he asked me what the 40-Year Plan was.
Well, I answered, it's not going to happen overnight. Social change takes time.
What social change? He inquired.
I guess it started with transportation when I first began thinking about the 40-Year Plan. A bunch of friends and I thought it would take 40 years to bury Interstate 84 in Hartford. But after I thought about it, and mapped out a 40 year cycle, my first instinct was to apportion the first five years for visioning, and goal setting.
That's too long, John said. Have you ever heard of OODA? He asked.
OODA – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
An American Air Force strategist named John Boyd created this mental model of the most effective decision-making loop. Defined by Wikipedia, "decision-making occurs in a cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. An entity (either an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby ‘get inside' the opponent's decision cycle and gain a military or business advantage."
Boyd, Wiki says, "developed the concept to explain how to direct one's energies to defeat an enemy and survive. Boyd emphasized that "the loop" is actually a set of interacting loops that are to be kept in continuous operation during combat. He also indicated that the phase of the battle has an important bearing on the ideal allocation of one's energies."
Observe? Well, in the visions phase, I see images of a car-free society. Of providing free college tuition. Of ending the war on terror. Of ending the war on drugs. Of dismantling atomic bombs. Of eliminating homelessness. Of restorating environmental harmony. Of helping the human condition.
No, no. OODA happens much quicker. Moment by moment. John maintained that 40 years was too long a cycle. I needed to be faster, he explained, looking at two year or five year or six month increments.
Even though 40 years was good enough for Moses, he prodded me to move quicker. So what did I do? I got on a boat that traveled 9,812 nautical miles at about 10 miles an hour.
Observe? I saw blue ocean. Waves. Orion's Belt. Whales. Dolphins. Clouds. Sunsets. Red plastic packages of pesticides floating across the Red Sea. Islands with military tents. Shipwrecks. Rainbows. Moon beams. Cigarettes. Bribes. Beers. 5,000 years of human fragility, failure and fantasy.
So is 40 years too long? January marks the fifth year of the 40-Year Plan. Or, looking at it from behind, the first ten percent of the plan has elapsed.
Orient? If I was judging 40YP progress, I'd say that after four years, I've written perhaps 150,000 words, and done a few things: run a web site, hosted a mediocre ideas forum and gotten myself pinched by the po-po and tossed in the pokey.
While I've got other short term goals, like I'm almost a third of the way through law school, but really, concrete action in the name of the 40-Year Plan is wanting.
The 40-Year Plan remains a constellation by which I navigate. Like Mintaka, the leading star in Orion's Belt, I'll never touch it, but I know when it rises, it points directly east. The 40-Year Plan provides direction.
But can I honestly say that in 40 years (now 35), I know what I want my life to be? Wife, kids, job, house? Yeah. But more than that.
Or that I have a plan to get there? Not a chance. I don't even have a retirement account. The 40-Year Plan sounds grandiose in conception, but in practice, it is little more than a weekly exercise in opinion writing.
Decide? I need to OODA-loop more. I need to be more serious about what this title means. I always set annual goals for myself, and with law school I created a four-year plan, but beyond that?
Act? More tangible specifics. Not just refinishing the floors in my condo. Not traveling. I need to stay put for a while. Something more challenging, with positive impact, something a little pie in the sky, even, but something plausible, possible. Like starting another newspaper. Or rehabbing my condo. Or running for office.