I’ve been fighting my way through Clausewitz’s On War, and came upon a passage in Book 1, Chapter 3. Boiled down to bullet points, here’s what he has to say about the effect of chance in war:

  • War is the province of chance.
  • Thus, situations are constantly changing beyond what you plan for.
  • If situations change sufficiently, you may need to come up with an entirely new plan.
  • A new plan requires new data, but you are often required to make a decision on the spot, before you have a chance to really analyze the new situation.
  • Usually, though, chance events only serve to make us hesitate, and do not completely change our plans.
  • Learning about some chance event has increased our knowledge of the situation.
  • However, this new knowledge has increased our uncertainty, instead of decreasing it.
  • Why? Because these chance events are always occurring, and make us feel constantly on the defensive.

I particularly loved the insight from those last three bullet points. How ironic, that we tend hesitate instead of move forward when presented with new information!

He then goes on to say that the solution is to cultivate (among other things) coup d’oeil, which is the ability to grasp a situation at a glance, and resolution, which he defines as a “moral corage”, or “courage in the face of responsibility” (as contrasted with courage in the face of physical danger).

In other words: to prevent analysis paralysis, just make a decision and move on. Planning is guessing, after all.