The Benefits of Planning for Failure

As surgeons, we are required to plan for failure in the operating room. We need to be aware of everything that could possibly go wrong, so we know how to respond and prevent a crisis from developing. This mentality was instilled in us during our training, when our mentors taught us how to avoid critical mistakes that could put our patients at risk.

And although we know how important it is to plan for failure when performing surgery, many of us fail at this important skill in other areas of our professional and personal lives. For example, in creating a private practice or trying to break a bad habit, we end up planning to fail instead – which basically ensures defeat.

The reality is that planning for failure is very different than planning to fail. When we plan to fail, we expect that we’re going to be unsuccessful. We believe that the outcome is already decided, so we act accordingly. Conversely, planning for failure means that you’re poised for success, because you’re prepared to prevent, respond to, and bounce back from anything that could go wrong.

Here’s why it’s so important to plan for failure, both inside and outside of the operating room:

1. It Allows you to Prevent Challenges and Complications

Acknowledging that failure can happen and planning accordingly is very different than simply expecting failure to occur. Rather, it helps you to anticipate challenges that may arise, so you can effectively prevent them.

2. It Encourages you to be More Objective

In order to plan for failure, you need to look at the situation from every single point of view. From that vantage point, you can objectively evaluate your circumstances and take the steps that are most likely to result in success.   

3. It Pushes you to Succeed

When you recognize that failure can happen, you’re inspired to succeed. Constantly being aware of the high stakes can serve as a great motivator.

4. It Allows you to Overcome Setbacks More Easily

A contingency plan for every possible setback makes it easy for you to move forward after a challenge. You simply revisit your strategy, identify the next step in your plan, and take it.

So, how do you plan for failure? To begin, you want to create a passion for performance improvement – not perfection. Rather than striving to be perfect, aim to get better and better over time. Always have a “Plan B” and “Plan C” if “Plan A” fails, and keep a positive attitude – even when you misstep. Apply these strategies to all of your goals, and you should begin to see the successes pile up. 

The 8 PRACTICEs Of Highly Successful Surgeons


To truly provide the BEST care to patients, we must first be certain to care for ourselves.