Some Anti-Theist Religious Bits & Pieces: Round Fifteen

Of all of those Big Questions central to philosophical concepts that surround life, the universe and everything, the realms of theology and religions and the nature of deities continue to fascinate. Opinions proliferate in books, articles, videos, conversations in bars and pubs, and in fact anywhere and everywhere two or more humans are in proximity. There’s the pro side; there’s the anti-side. There aren’t too many fence-sitters. I’m still in the anti-camp as the following bits and pieces illustrate.Regarding Religion*The massive diversity of religious faiths is a major argument against religious faith.*Religions of necessity creates an “us-and-them” mentality.*Christians are in favour of freedom of religion as long as it’s their religion.*If you ever want to know what is wrong with your religion, just ask somebody from an alternative religion. They’ll be very pleased to tell you.*Teach a child one religion and you indoctrinate them. Teach them many religions and you inoculate them.Regarding Religion vs. Science*If the Bible is so all scientifically spot-on, then Galileo and Copernicus would never have gotten into theological hot water so to speak. Even the Pope, John Paul II finally had to confess centuries later in October 1992 that Copernicus and (specifically) Galileo got it right and that the Church was wrong and had done these scientists an extreme disservice and injustice.*When examining a few of my history of science tomes, what do I find?The Ancient Greeks were known for their mathematics, observations in natural history and physics. They also came up with the idea of an academic institution of higher learning, and albeit no science, they are clearly associated with the concept of the Olympic Games.The Arabs excelled at mathematics and astronomy.The Polynesians were masters at maritime and celestial navigation.The Ancient Egyptians are associated with massive achievements in engineering and also mummification.The Mayans were superb observational astronomers even without any instrumentation.The Incas are renowned for their engineering construction and for metallurgy.The Chinese are known for numerous discoveries from chemistry to geophysics to astronomy and medicine.The Vikings were master seafarers.Several ancient cultures independently came up with the aerodynamic principles governing the invention of the boomerang – not associated with the Bible of course.Alas, the Bible and Biblical characters do not rate any mention at all. Historians of science do not acknowledge any contribution to science from the Bible or via the characters associated with the Bible. If anything, the ‘science’ in the Bible gets a massive thumbs down.Regarding Faith & Belief*A belief system that hasn’t changed in 2000 years that isn’t self-correcting isn’t worth squat because it isn’t capable of learning anything new.*I’d rather not know the answer than make stuff up.*Now I realise that the world is a very terrifying place, therefore you feel very insecure and alone and small within this sea of humanity that’s totally cold and indifferent and uncaring about you. So, it’s no wonder that you choose to live as much as possible in a la-la-land wonderland inhabited by an invisible magic man in the sky, a Big Brother figure who will look after you.*Christian theists represent just one faith among many numerous faiths. I have no more reason to believe in that faith and to accept that faith than both you and I both do with respect to any of the other faiths. The only tiny difference between us is that you’re an atheist when it comes to all faiths but one; I’m an atheist when it comes to all faiths full stop. So to recap, I don’t believe in your faith in the same way that you don’t believe in all the others who have their faith tied up in all the other faiths that aren’t your faith.*You may claim to have actual ‘knowledge’ that God exists as opposed to just a degree of personal faith or belief that God exists, but regardless of the term used, you cannot convey that ‘knowledge’ to me in such a way or form that I can independently verify that ‘knowledge’ for myself. Therefore, your ‘knowledge’ is worthless to me until such time as you do just that. This inability; your lack to give me ‘knowledge’ that I can independently verify, speaks volumes.*But, speaking of ‘knowledge’, I’ll give you a plausible reason why you believe you have ‘knowledge’ of God’s existence, the (near) infallibility of the Bible and in the reality of a supernatural Jesus. It’s all because that was the theology that was taught in the culture / society / community / family you were born and raised into, although indoctrinated / brainwashed might be more to the point and a more appropriate term(s). Now you know, and I know, that had you been born and raised in another time and in another place your theological indoctrination would have been drastically different. You’d bet the family farm on Ra, The Book of the Dead and on Horus. You’d have belief in your ‘knowledge’ of the theology part and parcel of ancient Egypt and you know this to be true.*So just because you claim to have some ‘knowledge’ of something (i.e. – God & Jesus) does not in and of itself; of necessity, make that alleged ‘knowledge’ correct. Many a person has had knowledge that later proved wrong.*Faith is not scepticism.*Assuming that both Satan and God are real, how did you actually figure out that God is the good guy and Satan is the bad guy? What mechanism did you use to figure that out? You have to use your own self-generated morality to decide the issue. If you use God’s morality that’s imposed on you, then you aren’t going to be able to use your own independent judgement. God is obviously going to be biased in favour of God.Regarding Prayer & Miracles*Hands that help are far more important than hands that pray.*It doesn’t count when you pray for rain today when yesterday’s weather forecast said tomorrow it’s going to rain!Regarding the Bible


*Anyone can write words in a book like the Bible. But is there any independent verification for all of the Bible’s alleged supernatural happenings? Just because I read a book in quantum physics doesn’t make quantum physics true, however much I might believe the author. But I can go out and do the experiments / observations (or watch the experiments being done) and convince myself that quantum physics is indeed true as the book and authorship stated. That’s independent verification.*Here’s a Biblical analogy: I very recently watched the 15 episode TV miniseries on DVD “North & South” – before, during and after the American Civil War. Now nearly all of the locations where the stories take place actually exist. Many of the events (i.e. – Civil War battles; Lincoln’s assassination, Harper’s Ferry, etc.) actually happened. Some of the supporting cast played really real historical characters like General Lee and General Grant and President Lincoln, etc. However, a few of the places, many of the events, and all of the major characters were entirely made up. Thus, “North & South” is a work of historical fiction so just because one place / event / character was real doesn’t translate into the entire miniseries being something a high school student could watch in preparation for an American history exam.*Consider Genesis 2: 24 (King James Version)”Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”The only two humans present and accounted for at this point in time were Adam and Eve and they didn’t have a mum and a dad (in the traditional sense). So where did this concept of parenthood come from out of the blue; all of a sudden? Well obviously this is just pure evidence that Genesis was all the product of human authorship; authorship that knew perfectly well that humans come from humans and that humans have mums and dads. Said authors needed to clarify that after their imaginative rendering of the initially humanly parent-less creation myth of Adam and Eve.*I don’t have neither the time nor the inclination to go through over 600 Biblical contradictions, one by one. I will mention one however. There are two separate and apart Ten Commandments which are not complementary; they do not agree one with the other (apart from the very first commandment) – compare and contrast Exodus 20: 3-17 and Exodus 34: 11-28 (and take especially careful note of the final three words in Exodus 34: 28). Suffice it be to say that I am convinced the Bible is chock-a-block full of internal contradictions. That’s in addition to all the other nonsense I’ve already touched on and gone through.*Who said that the Bible was God’s word? A human said that!Regarding that Biblical Talking Snake:*I’ll also note that it is easy to try to identify Satan with the talking snake in retrospect since Genesis and Revelation are eons apart; as far apart as it is possible to get. Revelation was written much, much later and could be twisted to adapt to previous Biblical chapters and verses.Faced with an Ockham’s Razor choice between the Genesis talking snake really being a supernatural entity (i.e. – Satan) for which there is no actual independent evidence that he even exists, or the talking snake being the product of pure human imagination, which is a more rational decision?Regarding the ExodusWe all know the tall tale of how God commanded Moses (and later Aaron – Exodus 4) to go to the Egyptian pharaoh (curiously unnamed in the Bible) with a request, well demand actually, to let God’s Chosen People (the Israelites / Hebrews) leave their alleged enslavement in Egypt so they could travel to the Promised Land – the Burning Bush myth of The Exodus (Exodus 3).God tells Moses that pharaoh will not listen to him when he requests, actually demands is more the case in point, that pharaoh let the Hebrew ‘slaves’ go out of Egypt, even after God has given the Egyptian nation (note, not pharaoh) nine plagues to deal with.Despite giving Moses and Aaron a bag full of magic tricks with which to convince the Egyptian establishment of their holy mission bona-fides, God also told Moses (and Aaron) that pharaoh wouldn’t listen to them (Exodus 7: 4; 11: 9) and let His people go (Exodus 3: 19; 11: 9). In fact God knew before-the-fact that He would have to get downright nasty with Egypt (the Egyptians in general instead of the pharaoh specifically) in order to achieve His aims (Exodus 3: 20). So an immediate issue arises, why bother sending Moses (and Aaron) to chin-wag with pharaoh in the first place? It was doomed from the get-go.In fact God deliberately and on numerous occasions, hardened pharaoh’s heart to ensure Moses and Aaron wouldn’t be listened to[#] and to ensure pharaoh wouldn’t let His Chosen People go (Exodus 4: 21; 7: 3; 7: 13-14; 7: 22; 8: 15; 8: 19; 8: 32; 9: 7; 9: 12; 9: 34-35; 10: 1; 10: 20; 10: 27; 11: 10; 14: 4; 14: 8; and also all Egyptians to boot Exodus 14: 17). What was the point of asking pharaoh to let His people go and then hardening pharaoh’s heart to ensure the exact opposite result? Perhaps that just then gives God the sadistic pleasure of inflicting cruel and unusual punishments on the Egyptian people via those ten plagues – note, not just on pharaoh, the only person to which He had an initial beef. In fact several times pharaoh was willing to let His people go and basically told the Hebrews to piss off (Exodus 9: 28; 10: 10; 10: 24; 12: 31-33), but no, God hardened pharaoh’s heart instead.What God should have done, what God should have told pharaoh directly god-to-man (face-to-face), assuming God was going to be fair-dinkum about His one and only one true objective which was getting pharaoh to let His Chosen People leave Egypt (instead of trying to prove Himself to all Egyptians as an all-round sadistic tyrant by inflicting the ten plagues), would have been that unless pharaoh let His people go, pharaoh was going to take a very long walk off a the top of a very tall and steep stone pyramid. End of discussion; end of problem.[#] And pharaoh didn’t listen to (or hearken unto) Moses or Aaron (Exodus 7: 13; 7: 22; 8: 15; 8: 19; and 9: 12).Issues Arising 1: What was the point of sending Moses and Aaron to talk to the pharaoh when God knew pharaoh wouldn’t listen and let the Israelites / Hebrews leave Egypt and God Himself would ensure this on numerous occasions by hardening pharaoh’s heart? It was all an exercise in absolute futility if you were Moses and Aaron.Issues Arising 2: What was the point of God inflicting punishment on the Egyptian people and livestock (i.e. – the ten plagues) when it was pharaoh and pharaoh alone who was the obstacle – an obstacle God wished to be an obstacle so God could strut His stuff and make damn sure that all and sundry knew without doubt that He was a read bad-ass.Regarding God*If there really is an outstanding argument for the actual existence of God, why aren’t theists using it?*Even if God actually exists, that in and of itself doesn’t mean that this God is worthy of being worshipped.*By the way, a flawed world implies a flawed creator.*If you’re trying to prove the existence of God, which god are you trying to prove and why? Can you give me any actual evidence that supports your God that doesn’t also support another god(s)?*God said it; I believe it; that settles it.*If you are really worthy of worship, you wouldn’t demand to be worshipped. And just because God (may have) created you doesn’t mean of necessity that you are obliged to worship Him.*If God created a women to be a companion to the male of the species, why didn’t God create a female deity to be a companion to Him?Regarding God’s Creation & the First Cause Argument*I propose that God is actually a magical flying pink elephant how farted the Universe into existence. Justification? We know that farting exists, even in the animal kingdom (my cats pass wind for example); we know that flying exists, from insects to pterosaurs to birds to bats to airplanes; we know that pink exists (quite apart from the entertainer); we know that elephants exist too. So a flying pink elephant that farted the Universe into existence is way more rational that presupposing any invisible magic man in the sky did the deed since we have no actual knowledge that such a creator deity actually even exists.*Maybe God caused the Big Bang event but in doing so blew Himself up – oops.Regarding God’s Omniscience*If God is all-knowing then how can He be upset at you for sinning when He knew even before you were born that you would sin?*Some say that there is no contradiction in being all-knowing and having free will. But if you know for absolute certain, and you are bound by that knowledge, of what you are going to have for breakfast tomorrow morning, then of necessity you must have that breakfast. Otherwise you didn’t know for absolute certain what was to happen before-the-fact and you weren’t all-knowing. If you are all-knowing then you have no free will in the matter if you do what you knew for absolute certain what you would do. Now either a deity has free will OR else it is all-knowing. The deity cannot be both since that would be a logical fallacy or contradiction. Of course the deity in question could be neither all-knowing AND have no free will, which suggests that there might not even be a deity present and accounted for at all. Further, if God is NOT all-knowing, then I’ll suggest that He doesn’t know how to create an absolute something from absolute nothingness.Rebuttal: Omniscience (knowing all) does not include knowing the future, because the future does not exist (by the very grammar of the sentence, it would make no sense to say that the future exists). So, just as an omniscient being doesn’t need to know the number of hairs on Harry Potter’s head (there is no such number, so there’s nothing to know), likewise He would not have to know the future (since there is no such thing).”Rebutting the rebuttal: Some dictionary definitions to start with of “omni”. Omni means “indicates all”; “denoting all”; “an element of Latin origin meaning ‘all’”. If you are ALL-knowing, the word ALL means just that – ALL. ALL encompasses ALL that is past; ALL that is present; ALL that is future; ALL is ALL that there is to know about life, the Universe and everything. The phrase is “all-knowing” NOT “all (except for the future)-knowing. Argue with the use of the word “all”, not with me. And by the way, the future is deterministic given the laws, principles and relationships that rule the roost. One example: solar and lunar eclipses can be predicted with certainty thousands of years into the future. You could write a list of future events, events you know must happen.Rebuttal 2: Omni does indeed mean “all”, but the future does not exist, and so it is not part of “all” any more than the number of hairs on Santa Claus’ beard is part of “all”. There is no such number, so even an omniscient person is not required to know it.Rebutting the rebuttal 2: Again, the phrase is “all-knowing” NOT “all (except for the future)-knowing”. Further, given theist’s belief that the Bible is the absolute word of God, the Book of Revelation is all about the future. Further, what about all of those Biblical prophets who had absolute knowledge of the future? Finally, I have convinced myself through rational thought processes that free will and omniscience are incompatible and contradictory terms.Regarding God’s Will*Since we weren’t allowed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge that would suggest that God wished to keep us in a state of pure and perpetual ignorance. Methinks knowledge, even knowledge of good and evil, is preferable to ignorance and so the talking snake, Even and Adam ultimately did the right thing.*Now just why would God all humans to have free will if He then will not allow said humans to exercise their free will without punishing them for it? That’s all the more the case when if exercising one’s free will the exercise of that free will harms no other humans. There are many “thou shall nots” in the Bible that if you do any of those “nots” God will get you for that even though no person was harmed or inconvenienced in even the slightest way.Regarding God’s ‘Morality’*If you think God is Mr. Morality personified, then please allow me to read certain adult-only Biblical stories to your young children!For example (one of many):1 Samuel 15:2-3 (King James Version)2 “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.”


3 “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”Now how are you going to explain to your young child why God ordered infants and babies to be slaughtered? And what was the point of killing all of the livestock? God’s insane!*More about God’s crimes? God says “do not kill”; God kills. Enough said! For elaboration I recommend you watch on YouTube DarkMatter2525′s clip on “God goes on a mass murder spree”. He gives 41 Biblical references to back up his claims.*We do not, or we certainly should not get our morality from God on the grounds that He’s very much a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ sort of dude. Any positive association between God and morality is a major oxymoronic association. I’m ready, willing and able to pass judgement on God and God’s alleged ‘morality’, especially on grounds that God, after all, was created in the image of humans. So I’m ultimately in judgement of fellow humans, albeit humans – humans who wrote the Bible hence defined God’s ‘morality’ – long since turned to dust and ashes.*If you accept God’s version of morality unreservedly, then you are passing judgement upon God. If you do not accept God’s version of morality unreservedly, either in part or in its entirety, then you are also passing on God. In either case, you are using your own internally derived concepts of morality to either agree or disagree with God’s morality.*Morality must come from some authority. We (the people) ARE that authority.Regarding Jesus*Can Christian theists cite for me at least one inscription or document – NOT the Bible – that has been dated and authenticated to the era between 1 AD and say 50 AD, an inscription or document that mentions Jesus, especially a supernatural Jesus, one who performed miracles and who was resurrected from the dead? Can you do that? If not then please keep quiet about the existence of contemporary evidence for the actual existence of Jesus.Because here’s the point. Did any of the alleged (500 or so) witnesses (1 Corinthians 15: 6) to the resurrected Jesus, or any of the women or any of the disciples who saw an animated version of him post-crucifixion ever pen their own first person account of this miracle? The answer is an absolute “no”.And ancient historian Josephus wasn’t born until after-the-fact (37 AD – 100 AD). He makes no mention of Jesus until around 93-94 AD in his “Antiquities of the Jews”, failing to mention Jesus in earlier works, and then gives only two brief mentions which have merited much scholarly debate (i.e. – not everyone is convinced of the authenticity of what Josephus allegedly wrote. Further, there are no originals – of course. The earliest copies date to the 11th Century, so we’re dealing with copies of copies of copies; translations of translations of translations. Who can really say what alterations were or might have been made by those Christian monks into whose care was placed the relevant Josephus manuscript?Even if despite all of the copies and all of the translations and all of the opportunities for those with vested interests to add and/or subtract from what Josephus wrote, what Josephus wrote only gives historical credibility to Jesus the mortal person, not Jesus the supernatural being.*Christian theists do go on, and on, and on, and on, and on about all of this evidence for the existence of a supernatural Jesus and a resurrected Jesus (and an invisible Jesus, but never mind that). Yet two of the three major monotheistic religions give the concept of a supernatural / resurrected Jesus the absolute thumbs down. So why doesn’t their alleged evidence for Jesus cut any ice with the True Believers of these two other major faiths? Methinks something is downright screwy with theist’s alleged evidence – like it doesn’t actually even exist.*Regarding the alleged resurrection of Jesus, can you imagine the debacle that would arise if modern major news stories in the here-and-now weren’t reported anywhere until 50 years after-the-fact. What degree of accuracy could you expect especially if everything were just reported by word-of-mouth? Fifty years after-the-fact? Talk about alternative facts emerging and utterly fake news.*Hercules is the real new resurrection story and Jesus is the fake news story. The resurrection of Jesus was a slightly reworked plagiarism of the Hercules resurrection. Now prove me wrong!*The alleged “empty tomb” is not an argument for the resurrection of Jesus. Just because my cookie jar is empty doesn’t mean I don’t have any cookies. Or, just because I have an empty wallet doesn’t mean that I’m broke.*Sexual abstinence didn’t help the Virgin Mary now, did it?*knock, knock
–”Who is it?”
-”It’s me, Jesus. Let me in.”
–”Why do you want in?”
-”I want to save you.”…
–”Save me from what?”
-”From what I’ll do to you if you don’t let me inRegarding Atheists & Atheism*Theists might just benefit by watching on YouTube the call-in TV show “The Atheist Experience” (out of Austin, Texas) which is actually designed specifically for theists to call in and give their theism their best shot. I’d love to see theists go up again Matt Dillahunty who nearly became a Christian minister (before he saw the light) and thus probably knows more about Christian theology and the Bible better than most theists do. I certainly wouldn’t want to go up against him in a theological debate! So due warning: Dillahunty holds nothing back and pulls no punches and takes no prisoners.

Thirteen Elements of Effective Planning

All plans are not good plans. In fact, even good plans can fail. We cannot predict the future – we can only imagine it imperfectly. In our companies and organizations, effective planning is a social activity. Deciding on a strategic planning process as a group, rather than as an individual, adds even greater complexity to an already complex task. Collaborative and effective planning techniques, then, require 13 essential elements.

1. Effective and Strategic Planning Process

First, effective planning requires a process, and that strategic planning process should include the remaining 12 elements of good planning. In collaborative team planning, that process must be structured and disciplined in order to be efficient and thorough. Without a process, your planning techniques will be awkward, inefficient and often insufficient.

2. Effective Planning Techniques: An Envisioned Future / Objective

When we envision the future, we must describe it clearly and provide specific measurements in order to judge our success. To this end, the objective of our effective planning techniques is goal we envision attaining in the future. Objectives must be clear to all involved. They must also have a scope that is commensurate with the span of control of those involved with the effective planning process. An objective that is not achievable by those tasked with developing a plan is, obviously, doomed to failure. Objectives must also be measurable. Without measurements of success, there is no means of establishing whether or not the objective was achieved, and your strategic planning process will be flawed.

3. Dynamic, Adaptable Planning

In terms of effective planning, “dynamic” means that plans are adaptable, in two ways. First, the act of effective planning considers the current and predicted environment and adapts the plan accordingly. Second, in the strategic planning process, plans must be devised in such a way so that they are not overly detailed. Effective planning ensures that your plans can adapt to changes that occur while the plan is being executed.

4. Iterative Improvements

Effective planning at your organization will also be iterative. By “iterative,” we mean that a plan will improve continuously from one iteration, or version, to another before it is executed in the strategic planning process. The iterative nature of planning supports its adaptive or dynamic nature. Iteration can be sped up by an effective planning technique known as “Red Teaming.” In Red Teaming, a group of individuals outside the planning effort are invited to criticize the plan or expose its weaknesses, acting as a form of rapid iteration and improvement.

5. Effective Planning Requires that You Learn from Experience

A complex and rapidly changing environment demands the ability to rapidly learn from the changes in that environment. Even the most well-educated and trained organization will soon become obsolescent as changes in the environment eventually overwhelm it. Good organizational planning requires sophisticated and effective planning techniques that the organization learns continually, through interaction with its environment and the execution of its plans.

6. Means to Achieve / Course of Action

The central element of all effective planning techniques is the Course of Action (COA). These are the actual tasks that must be completed, whether in parallel, in series, or a combination of both, to achieve the goal. For the most part, in a strategic planning process, the Course of Action, for simple plans, is intuitive or even obvious. However, for most organizations, plans may require great detail. Therefore, an effective planning process must be flexible enough to handle both simple and detailed plans. Effective planning processes should have the ability to repeat the planning process at successively lower levels in the organization, while supporting the objectives of the overall plan.

7. Decentralized Effective Planning

Another effective planning technique is the decentralization of plans, closely related to the flexible and successively repeatable nature of the Course of Action. Effective planning teams should not plan beyond their scope or expertise. In other words, the executive team of a large corporation should not develop the details of a strategic planning process to replace a main server in their IT infrastructure. Such a task is both out of their scope and, most likely, their expertise.

8. Individual Accountability

The scope and detail of effective planning is concluded when each task within a Course of Action is assigned to a single individual, not a team, to complete. Without individual accountability to each task and each plan, there is a significant risk of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and ultimately, failure.

9. Effective Planning Techniques Support Initiative and Good Judgment

General George S. Patton said that plans “[...] should be made by those who are going to execute them.” Decentralization and accountability go far in supporting the success of effective planning techniques. However, when a strategic planning process is developed by the team responsible for accomplishing the plan’s objective, the overall quality and likelihood of creating a successful plan improves exponentially.

10. Consider Resources

Effective planning means not committing to or wasting resources unnecessarily. In a strategic planning process, planners must determine the appropriate targets or objectives and focus resources upon those objectives. Because resources are often limited, prioritizing and planning successive phases of implementation may be necessary.

11. Assess Risk: Leadership Responsibility

Resources are considered carefully at every level of effective planning. Furthermore, the assessment of objectives, threats and resources are critical steps in every strategic planning process that, when taken together, form the basic risk assessment for any plan. Without the necessary resources to either avoid or mitigate the threats to accomplishing an objective, the risks in undertaking that plan should be given due consideration by the leadership within the organization. Because risk is often necessary, the final decision to execute the plan is left to its leaders, not the planning team.

12. Participatory and Cognitively Diverse

Isolating planning in a single individual or a group of individuals without the benefit of field experience and a diversity of knowledge, skills, and abilities is a recipe for failure. The world we live in is increasingly complex. Problem-solving in our complex world requires teams of cognitively diverse individuals contributing their unique knowledge to form a combination of effective planning techniques. If planning is conducted by a single individual or by groups of people with similar knowledge, skills and abilities, the qualities necessary to solve complex problems and to create an innovative strategic planning process will be absent.

13. The Most Effective Plans are Simple

The more complex a design, the more likely it will fail. As Statistical Process Control and Six Sigma methodologies instruct, the greater the number of steps in a process, the greater the potential for a defect. That is why it is critical that the planning process remains simple. Simplicity is not just about minimizing the number of tasks, it’s about making sure that each task is clearly defined through answering some simple questions: “who will do what and when.”

There is a paradox at work in effective preparation. It is simply this: that our human tendency is to implement plans rigidly while the purpose of a plan, in light of the complexity and constant change in the world, is to define objectives and establish a point of departure to react to change. The paradox of the strategic planning process is that effective planning does not involve merely creating a list of sequenced tasks, but establishing a constantly evolving problem-solving process that adapts and thrives in the environment.

Four Reasons Why Small Business Fail To Plan and Why They Need To Think Again

It is so widely acknowledged that a robust business plan is one of the key ingredients in small business success, it seems remarkable that anyone serious about their business could considerable it optional. For example, Business Link say, “It is essential to have a realistic, working business plan when you’re starting up a business”. A recent survey showed that small businesses were twice as likely to be successful with a written business plan as compared with those without one. The Times in their annual round up of 100 up and coming UK businesses suggest that “poor business planning” is a key reason for failure. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to find an authority that would advocate the opposite idea, a clear signal that this idea is accepted wisdom. Despite this, a recent survey shows that two thirds of small business owners run their businesses on gut instinct alone.

I had a very interesting discussion about this a couple of days ago with a good friend of mine who has run several successful small businesses in which he posited the idea of a “planning gene”. He felt that the only possible explanation for the lack of proper planning in small business was genetic.

According to his theory, the majority of people are born without the “planning gene” and this explains why so many people don’t have any written business plan, despite the overwhelming evidence of a high correlation between a robust and vigorously implemented business plan and business success. The majority of us are simply not biologically and genetically wired to plan.

This is certainly one explanation, although I have to say I have a few reservations as to the validity of his theory. I talk with small business owners about planning every day. I’m part of a small business myself. I’ve owned several small businesses over the last ten years each with varying degrees of success. In all those conversations and all that experience, this was the first (semi) serious discussion I’d had about the planning gene.

If I was to aggregate the results of the conversations I have had with actual and prospective customers on this topic, four distinctive strands emerge explaining why small business owners fail to plan. Whilst I have heard a few other explanations for the lack of effective small business planning, I am treating these as outliers and focusing on the most significant.

I’m Too Busy To Plan – More often than not, the small business owners we talk to tell us that proper planning is a luxury that only big business can afford. For them, business planning, if done at all, was a one-time event that produced a document for a bank manager or investor which is now gathering dust in the furthest recesses of some rarely opened filing cabinet. There just aren’t enough hours in the day and if forced to choose, they would do the real, physical work and leave the mental work undone, which seems to be the poor relation at best, if it is even dignified with the status of work at all.

Traditional Planning Doesn’t Work – The “I’m too busy to plan” excuse is often supplemented with this one. I’ve heard the stories of the most legendary construction overrun of all time, The Sydney Opera House, originally estimated to be completed in 1963 for $7 million, and finally completed in 1973 for $102 million, more times than I can remember. Sometimes, this idea is backed up with some actual research, such as the fascinating study by several eminent psychologists of what has been called the “planning fallacy”. It seems that some small business owners genuinely believe that mental work and planning is a bit of a con with no traction on physical reality.

My Business Is Doing Fine Without Detailed Planning – A minority of small business owners we speak to are in the privileged position of being able to say they’ve done pretty well without a plan. Why should they invest time and resources into something they don’t appear to have missed?

Planning Is Futile In A Chaotic World – Every once in a while, we hear how deluded we are to believe that the world can be shaped by our hopes and actions. This philosophical objection to planning is perhaps my favourite. It takes ammunition from a serious debate about the fundamental nature of the universe and uses it to defend what almost always is either uncertainty about how to plan effectively or simple pessimism. This is different from the idea that planning doesn’t work as these business owners have never even tried to form a coherent plan, but have just decided to do the best they can and hope that they get lucky as they are knocked hither and thither like a steel ball in the pinball machine of life.

As with all of the most dangerous excuses, there is a kernel of truth in each of these ideas and I sympathise with those who have allowed themselves to be seduced into either abandoning or failing to adopt the habit of business planning. Most small business owners feel the same dread in relation to business planning as they do to visits to the dentist, so it’s unsurprising that so many simply don’t bother. However, by turning their backs completely on planning, they are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Taking each idea outlined above in turn, I’ll attempt to show why business planning is critical, not just despite that reason but precisely because of that reason.

I’m Too Busy Not To Plan – Time is the scarcest resource we have and it is natural that we would want to spend it doing those things that we believe will have the greatest impact. Of course, we want to spend most of our time producing, but we should also invest at least some time into developing our productive capacity. As Stephen Covey pointed out in his seminal work, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, we should never be too busy sawing to sharpen a blunted saw. Planning is one of the highest leverage activities we can engage in, as when done effectively it enhances the productive capacity of small businesses, enabling them to do more with less. Nothing could be a bigger waste of precious time than to find out too late that we have been using blunt tools in pursuit of our business goals.

If we as small business owners weren’t so busy and time wasn’t so scarce, then we wouldn’t have to make choices about what we did with our time and resources. We could simply pursue every opportunity which presented itself. However, for the busy entrepreneur, the decision to do one thing always has the opportunity cost of not being able to do something else. How can we be certain that our business is going where we want it to go without pausing regularly, scanning the horizon and making sure not only that we are on track but also making sure that we still want to get to where we are heading? I believe more time is wasted in the single-minded pursuit of opportunities that are not right than is wasted by over thinking the opportunity of a lifetime.

In short, small business owners are extremely busy and their time is precious. So much so that to waste it doing the wrong things with the wrong tools would be tragic. Small business owners that cannot afford the luxury of making expensive mistakes simply must regularly sharpen the saw through continuous business planning.

Traditional Planning Doesn’t Work, So We Need a New Approach That Does – There are some fairly large question marks over the effectiveness of traditional business planning techniques. In an age where business models are becoming obsolete in months rather than years, a business plan projecting five years into the future cannot be viewed as gospel. Nobody has a crystal ball and if they did, they probably wouldn’t be writing business plans but using their remarkable predictive powers to some more profitable end.

Dwight D Eisenhower said “plans are useless, but planning is essential”. Whilst producing a document called a business plan is far from useless, the real value lies in the process by which the plan is created in the first place. If this process can be kept alive in a business then the dangers associated with traditional planning can be minimised or avoided all together. In an environment of continuous business planning, small businesses can be flexible and adaptive to the inevitable changes and challenges they will face. Rather than quickly becoming obsolete, their plan will simply evolve with the changing circumstances.

Accepting that the plan is a living thing that will evolve necessitates a change of approach to business planning. An effective business plan is the response to the repeated asking of the questions what, why, how, who and how much. It is not a 20 – 30 page form to fill in for the benefit of a bank manager or some venture capitalist, who will probably never fully read it. A business plan should help you, not hinder you, in doing business. If traditional business planning doesn’t work for you, it’s time to embrace the new paradigm of continuous business planning.

My Business Could Do Even Better With Effective Planning – If you are one of the lucky few whose business has thrived despite an absence of traditional business planning, then I say a sincere well done. I hope that you can say the same thing in five years time.

Business life expectancy in Britain and across Europe and indeed the world are in rapid decline. A study done at the end of the eighties and then again as we marched into the new Millennium showed that life expectancy had more than halved for British businesses in those ten years, from an average of 9.7 years to 4.1 years. Just because a company once enjoyed market leadership does not mean that its future is assured. Many high street institutions have fallen victim to the recent recession. Five years ago it was inconceivable that UK retail institutions like Clinton Cards, Game, Borders, Barratts, T J Hughes, Habitat, Focus DIY, Oddbins, Ethel Austin, Principles, Allied Carpets, Woolworths, MFI and Zavvi/Virgin Megastore would all be either out of business or teetering on the brink of oblivion in 2012. Yet that is exactly what has transpired.

Any business from the smallest to the greatest is not impervious to the winds of change. A new competitor, a technological breakthrough, new laws or simply changes in fashion and consumer preference can all re-write the future of a company regardless of how bright that future once seemed. It is precisely because these risks exist that business planning is critical. To survive in business is extremely hard, but failing to effectively plan for the future or adapt to current realities surely makes it impossible and failure inevitable.

Of course, it is not necessarily the absence of plans that did for these companies but the quality of their plans and most especially the quality of their implementation. Even a poor plan vigorously executed is preferable to the finest planning and research left to rot in a drawer. Continuous business planning is effective business planning because it emphasizes implementation and regular reviews of real results as part of what should be a continual process of improving company performance rather than simply attempting to predict the future and wringing our hands when our prophecy fails to come true. We believe, like Peter Drucker, that the best way to predict the future is to create it.

Planning Is Essential In A Chaotic World – We sometimes feel small and insignificant as we try against all odds to translate our dreams into business reality. It’s easy to feel all at sea when we consider some of the challenges we face. However, whilst it is true that we cannot control the direction of the wind, we can adjust our sails and change the direction of the rudder. Difficult and challenging circumstances may come in our lives, but we can control the outcome of these circumstances by choosing which path to take.

The truth is that we are fundamentally achievement orientated as human beings. When this is taken away, we lose much of the energy and motivation that propels us forward. There have been numerous studies carried out on life expectancy rates after retirement, which show that when clearly defined goals and daily action moving in the direction of those goals are removed from our lives, the result is literally fatal. The individuals studied who failed to replace their career goals with a new focus for their retirement simply shriveled up and died. The implications for small business owners are clear. Those business owners with clear goals who take action daily that propels them in the direction of their goals are far more likely to thrive and survive than those who take any old goal that comes along or move from day to day with no defined objective other than survival.

It seems to me that precisely because life is so chaotic and challenging that effective planning is essential. Without continuous business planning, our businesses and the small business owners that work in them may find that bit by bit they are atrophying and on their way to becoming another business failure statistic.

There undoubtedly exists an antipathy for business planning felt by many small business owners. Clearly, this cannot be fully explained by the lack of a “planning gene”, but it equally cannot be fully justified by the reasons most commonly put forward by small business owners to not engage in the business planning process. These reasons must be critically re-evaluated and a commitment made to a continual and never ending process of improving the condition of their small businesses. Without such a commitment, the future for small businesses in the UK is uncertain.

How Does My Defined Benefit Pension Plan Work?

The Defined Benefit Plan used to be the standard for pension plans. Over the last 10 years, many companies have been phasing out these plans in favour of Defined Contribution Plans. Some companies may give you the option of switching between them as well, or converting from one type to another. This article is focused on the Defined Benefit Plan. If you start working for a company today, you will most likely be offered a Defined Contribution Plan unless you work for the public sector, a unionized environment, or a company with a long standing defined benefit plan.

How do I know the difference between the two plans? See the definitions below. The words in bold are terminology you will often see in the discussion of defined benefit pension plans.

Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution Plans Defined

A defined benefit plan is a pension plan where the future payout in retirement is defined by a set formula when you join the company. It is a calculation that usually includes your highest average salary, time working in the company, and how much money was contributed by you and the employer. The money is invested on your behalf and the firm is responsible for risk if something goes wrong. There is usually an implied rate of return that is guaranteed by your employer each year, which is the investment rate of return your money would earn if you could see your pension plan in a bank account.

A defined contribution plan is where the money you pay into the plan is defined: the amount contributed either by you or on your behalf by the company. It is a set dollar amount based on your salary in the year that you are working. You can think of it as the company (and sometimes you and the company) contributing to your pension account. This is similar to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) account, except that it is locked in. Locked in means that the money is in your name and you are entitled to the money, but cannot withdraw it unless there is a very exceptional circumstance. (i.e. this is the only money I have and I need to pay my bills). Also like an RRSP Account, you get to choose the investments in the defined contribution scenario, and you are taking the risks. If you invest in a fund and it loses money, you must deal with the consequences. It is for this reason that it is good to have a plan. If you are in a situation where you have a defined contribution account, you will have to make the decisions.

I know that I have a Defined Benefit Plan, What Now?

The good news is that defined benefit plans tend to work without many decisions being made on your part. This article is designed to make you aware of how they work so that you can be aware of potential changes and make decisions such as benefits changes, whether to stay at your employer a certain number of years, whether to transfer your pension to another institution, or convert to another type of plan (i.e. The Defined Contribution Plan). You may also be given warning if the promises that were made to you when you joined the pension plan get changed by the time you actually receive payment in retirement.

How Does It Work?

A defined benefit pension plan is basically a giant bank account, covering retirement for many employees in an organization over a long period of time. The employees and the employer contribute money every year, and this money is collected in this account. The entity that manages this bank account is called the plan sponsor. This account is typically run separately from the company operations, or from the institution it represents. For example, the GM pension plan is a separate entity from GM the corporation. The only relationship the pension plan and the underlying company should have is for company contributions, adding money to increase funding of the plan, or removing money over and above the projected amount needed to pay the present and future pensioners. If there is any other money transfer between the pension plan and the company, this should be monitored as it may signal funding problems, or a permanent change in the structure of the pension plan (for example company mergers, amalgamations or division split off from the parent company).

Once money is deposited into this bank account, it is invested for a long period of time to ensure that there is enough money to pay the future obligation. The amount of money promised to future pensioners is tabulated, and this amount is discounted back to the present, using an interest rate called a discount rate. This means that an equivalent amount of money invested in the current year is calculated to equal this expected future obligation. The calculation of the future obligation determines an expected rate of return which is the return necessary for the money sitting in the bank account to pay the future obligation and operate the pension plan. How do they know how much they will have to pay? This is where the actuary comes in. The actuary estimates how long people will contribute and withdraw money from the pension plan based on life expectancy, economic conditions, expenses of running the plan, the investment returns and inflation among other things to come up with a projected benefit obligation. The current health of the plan overall is measured using an asset-liability study, which is exactly what it sounds like – a study of the assets (money expected to be generated by the plan) and the liabilities (money that is expected to be paid out by the plan), or the funding situation of the pension plan. There can different versions of this calculation due to varying assumptions. If you are very keen, you can find the assumptions in the financial reports of your pension plan and see what the variations are. Since these calculations are projecting way out into the future, a small change in an assumption will mean a big change in the result. Keep an eye on this over the years to see what trends may be impacting the numbers. This asset-liability study also determines whether there is a surplus in the plan, or it isoverfunded (more money in the plan that the most current estimate requires to cover the future obligation) or a deficit in the plan, or it is underfunded (less money in the plan than the most current estimate requires to cover the future obligation). If a deficit becomes too large and stays there for a period of time, the plan may become insolvent. This is very similar to a company that goes insolvent because it ran out of cash and couldn’t sustain its business any longer. If this happens, the government may bail out the plan, but this depends on the jurisdiction, funds available and willingness of the government. The alternative is to wind up the planand whatever money is left over is divided among the stakeholders (the pensioners, contributors and entities that operate the plan). This is similar to a bankruptcy proceeding for a corporation.

Contributions

Contributions represent the money put into the pension plan by you and your employer. The contribution amount is usually based on a percentage of salary, and consequently the payout in retirement is also based on your salary. The specific calculation of the payout will vary for each plan – this should be checked with your employer. The retirement calculators provided at your workplace are very handy for figuring out your projected retirement monthly payout. Since the numbers are projecting well out into the future, unless you are within 5 years of your retirement, the numbers will likely change by the time you actually receive payments. The ratio of money you are contributing versus the employer will vary by plan and over time. Generally, the less you contribute, the better off you are if you receive the same benefits. Check your pay stub to make sure that the amount deducted equals the amount that should be deducted. If it is not, ask why. There may be some additional deductions or changes to the percentages that you may not be aware of. In some plans, you don’t see what the employer contributes – you only see what you have contributed. If you know the percentages of both parties, you can figure out how much you are actually getting. Also, for tax purposes, the company will reflect contributions from both parties on your tax slips, as the total dollar amount will impact RRSP contribution room and tax planning. Changes to contributions and benefits are usually reflected after union contract negotiations, or after asset-liability studies are carried out which determine how much money the plan will need to pay the pensioners, and how much you the contributor will need to pay.

Vesting

“Vesting” or “Vesting Period”is the time after which you are entitled to benefits or payment, either now or in the future. When you first join a pension plan, the first vesting period is the time when you are entitled to the employer contributions. It could be your first day of employment, or months and years out into the future from your first day of employment. There may be other vesting periods – times at which you are entitled to pension payments, or health benefits as well as pension payouts. Many defined benefit pension plans will include access to health insurance, and how much is covered is typically what you receive when you are working – but this varies and must be verified with your employer. There may be a vesting period for when you can take early retirement. This is usually called early retirement rather than vesting, but the idea is the same. If you stop contributing to the pension plan, you will lose anything that is not vested. Note that you may leave the company and return to the company but continue contributing in your absence. Whatever is vested can either be taken with you, or received as a deferred payment in the future. The tabulations that are done with the retirement calculators always assume you will contribute all the way up to your retirement without interruption. If you leave earlier, you need to calculate a deferred payment, where you input the start and stop date of your contributions, and how much money you put in over this period. If you are familiar with the concept of an annuity, this is very similar.

Indexing

When most pension calculations are done, it is assumed that there is no inflation in the numbers. If you see the term “real rate of return”, this interest rate would include inflation, and would equal the nominal rate of return, or typical interest rate that is quoted, minus the inflation rate. As an example, if you received a 5% return on your mutual fund last year, and the inflation rate was 2%, your real rate of return would be 5%-2% or 3%. Why does this matter? Typically pension payments are fixed – once a payment is calculated upon reaching retirement, it stays the same throughout retirement. The problem is that when you retire, you are supposed to have enough money to pay your expenses with this pension payout. If the rate of inflation is 2% every year up to your retirement, this is like saying you can buy 2% less stuff every year. If the promised pension payment is $2000 per month today, and you retire in 20 years, this 2% inflation rate would reduce the amount of stuff you can buy by 40% (2% x 20 years). If this continues while you are retired, say another 20 years, this money will now buy 80% less stuff than today. Imagine paying bills with 80% less money! Indexing raises the payout calculations by the amount of the inflation rate to prevent this erosion of monetary value from happening. Inflation is actually a very personal thing – the price increases of the stuff you personally spend your money on, is what will impact you the most. The pension plans assume that you buy the same quantity of stuff and in the same proportions as the average, or quoted inflation rate. This is likely not true, but it is better than no indexing at all. Some pension plans also have a maximum amount that they will index, or will not fully index but only partially. Check with your employer for the calculation to verify.

Early Retirement Special Features

Most plans have an option to retire early. They will usually combine how long you have worked there, or years of service with your age and determine a threshold for qualification for early retirement. If you retire early, the rules may change. They may give you a reduced pension for a period of time, or some other benefit. This is highly specific to your employer, so do the homework on this one. These features also change over time. The more the employer wants you to retire, the better an offer they will provide. Another indicator is that the more money the pension plan has, or the better the funding situation, the lower the contributions will be and the better the early retirement terms will be. The closer you are to retirement, the more these features will impact you. Retiring early is a very personal decision, as it will affect your retirement plan, tax status, income and employability. Make sure you plan carefully if you are offered early retirement, and do what is best for your needs.

RRSP Effect

The government views all of your pension accounts together when it comes to contribution room. The RRSP room that you are allowed will include defined benefit pension plan room, as well as all other types of retirement accounts. As an example, if you are allowed $12000 worth of RRSP room, and the defined benefit plan contributes $10000 in the relevant tax year (note that this includes your contributions and those of the company), you would have $2000 left for additional contributions to another type of retirement account.

What About the CPP?

The CPP contributions are also accounted for with your defined pension plan. The employer will account for the CPP limits when calculating your defined pension contributions. When you retire, the pension calculator that you use to determine how much money you receive in retirement accounts for CPP entitlements as well. How this accounting is done will depend on your salary and the CPP contribution calculations for the year in question. This would be another question for your employer. When you are retired, you would receive the CPP Payment and the Defined Benefit Pension payment separately, and the Old Age Supplement (OAS) if applicable.

What if I Leave the Company?

If you leave the company and you are vested, you can leave the money with your former employer, or take it with you to another institution. If you leave it with your employer, you will be able to receive it when you reach retirement age – this is called a “deferred payment”. It may also mean a series of payments over time – this is something I would ask the employer, especially if you will be retiring in the next 10 years. Since it is a pension plan, it will remain locked in until you are of retirement age. It would be kept separate from other non-locked in assets that you might have – like RRSPs, Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) or non-registered (cash) accounts. There are situations when you can combine locked in accounts from different employers into a single account. This should also be discussed with your current employer.

You can also combine defined contribution and defined benefit plans together in certain situations – if your current employer has a way of calculating the value of the contributions between the two (or more) types of plans. This is also possible between defined benefit plans of different types. Please ask your employer for the rules of their pension plan upon arriving or leaving a job to make sure you have all of the options open. You can also manage pension money yourself once you leave the employer. The money would go into a Locked in Retirement Account (LIRA), which can be managed by the same financial institutions that manage RRSP accounts. You can also turn this money over to a financial planner or broker if you believe they can manage your money more effectively than you can. There are usually time restrictions on making these transfers, and rules of protocol to follow, so please ask your company when you leave the firm and get the proper procedure so you can implement this strategy if you want to.

What If I Am Not Vested Yet?

If you leave the company before the vesting date – your funds will be returned to you but employer contributions will be kept by the company. For information purposes, keep track of how much you and the company contribute from when you joined the plan in the event of mistakes. As an aside, always keep your statements and print out hard copies of your records in case of issues with accessing your internet based accounts or loss of history. At the very least, have the records stored in your personal hard drive so they can be accessed without restriction. This is also a good idea for tax purposes. You want to be able to recreate your account situation from start to finish without relying on the internet, or any other parties to supply you with information.

In summation, the defined benefit pension plan is an integral part of your retirement. Even though it is managed by your employer, you should know what is going on and make decisions when appropriate.