“Last made, but first planned.”
In the 16th century, Rabbi Solomon Alkabetz of Salonika, composed a poem to greet the Sabbath queen that has become an iconic song of rest robed in beauty: Lekha Dodi - Let us go, my beloved. As was common with Hebrew acrostic poetry, if you put together the first letter in each of its stanzas, you will come up with the author’s name. In the song, we greet God or the Sabbath as the beloved and rise up to see her and invite her in, giving her presence the pride of place.
In the song, we acknowledge the Sabbath as a wellspring of blessing. We shake off the cares of the week - “Arise, leave the midst of your turmoil” - to touch a little piece of transcendence. “Dress in your garments of splendor, my people,” says the song, mirroring our own change of clothing to acknowledge the majesty of the royal Sabbath. We prepare for redemption. We note that light is coming with an appeal to rise and shine.
One particular stanza always moves me:
To greet Shabbat, now let us go.
Source of blessing, it has ever been so.
Conceived before life on earth began.
Last made, but first planned.
This stanza suggests that although the Sabbath was the last work of God’s creation, it was conceived of first, the crowning achievement of this intense spurt of divine creativity. All of creation moves towards this shared end of rest and introspection.
Today, we might call this strategy design thinking. Design thinking often starts with the end product - where you want to go - and then establishes the best strategy to achieve those ends. It’s a methodology using logic, intuition and imagination to approach complex problems more systemically. According to the business website Fast Company, there are four stages to design thinking: 1) Defining the problem, 2) Creating and considering many options, 3) Refining directions, 4) Repeating. There’s a lot written on design theory, but in my mind, Lekha Dodi sums it up beautifully: last made, but first planned.
To throw some more interesting research into the mix, Dr. Jihae Shin from University of Wisconsin-Madison’s business school and Katherine Milkman from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School demonstrate that the best plans we make should not include a plan B. “Simply contemplating backup plans makes you want to achieve the primary goals less, which makes you put less effort into it," claims Dr. Shin. This is true both for individuals and teams. They conclude that it’s best for two teams to come up with two different plans to tackle a problem or create a new strategy than for one team to create a plan A and a plan B. It seems that the moment you conceive that your optimal plan might not work, you are, in some small way, resigning yourself to something less than your best.
Creating a plan B may make us feel appropriately thoughtful, cautious and prepared for every circumstance. What this new research suggests is that such thinking can also undermine the achievement of a bigger dream, preparing us mentally to succumb to something more mediocre than our first, best idea just simply by the act of acknowledging another way to get something done.
Reading the reports of this study made me consider about our own creation narrative. There was no plan B. Maybe it’s easy to achieve plan A if you’re God. Mortal beings don’t stand a chance. Or perhaps a more subtle view of the first chapters of Genesis has God evaluating and re-thinking creation once the world is up and running. In other words, rather than create a plan B, God tweaked the universe after plan A, tinkering and tinkering up to and including today.
Perhaps we will sing Lekha Dodi with a little more introspection, allowing the beautiful lyrics and melody to pose the question: what is the design thinking that guides my life, the goal or goals to which all of my efforts are ultimately directed? If we identify that end goal - our plan A - we might work towards it differently.