The Limits of Planning

July 27, 2015

Like many Michiganders, I took a summer vacation. And as I always do, I planned the trip thoroughly ... from flights to sights to accommodations to restaurants, but still leaving a few details to spontaneity and serendipity.

This summer's trip was to Newfoundland, where winter was very grudgingly giving up its grip. Everything about summer was slow in coming, and the thousands-of-years-in-the-making icebergs that had drifted down from Greenland were several weeks later than usual to disappear off Newfoundland's coast.

It was a trip that once again reminded me of the limits of planning.

Understand, I am an ardent advocate of planning. First, I am my mother's son who would often say that "Happiness is having a plan." Second, I'm so obsessed with planning that I committed to writing two decades ago what should happen when I die, which actuarial tables inform me should be even longer than two decades in the future. 

But once again, all my planning for this vacation failed to provide its best moments. The best accommodation was the one I did not book in advance; the best restaurant was the one I had not heard of before we departed from Michigan; the best iceberg adventure was the one we had on our own after taking a wrong turn, not the commercial tours we took in groups. 

Planning is a necessary part of leadership and it is essential for the success of any enterprise. But so is staying open to hunches, going with your gut and learning from mistakes. This often makes for the most memorable vacations as well as the most meaningful vocations.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.