If You Fail To Prepare You Are Preparing To Fail

Benjamin Franklin? H. K. Williams? James H. Hope? E. B. Gregory? Dalton E. Brady? Robert H. Schuller? John Wooden? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Proper planning is fundamental to success. Benjamin Franklin has been credited with an admonitory aphorism. Here are three versions using “plan” and “prepare”:

  • Failing to plan is planning to fail.
  • The person who fails to plan, plans to fail.
  • By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.

The memorability of this statement is enhanced by the use of antimetabole: a clause is repeated with key words transposed. In this case, the suffixes are also swapped. Would you please trace this expression?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Benjamin Franklin employed this adage.

The first match known to QI appeared in the periodical “The Biblical World” in 1919. The Reverend H. K. Williams provided advice to people who were responsible for giving presentations to religious groups. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Be well prepared and brief in your remarks. There is positively no excuse for wasting another’s time by going to the meeting unprepared and rambling helplessly in your talk. Remember, if you fail to prepare you are preparing to fail.

This valuable citation is listed in “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” from Yale University Press. 2 QI hypothesizes that Williams was using an adage that was already in circulation although he may be credited with helping to popularize it. Future researchers will likely find earlier instances.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Fail To Prepare You Are Preparing To Fail


  1. 1919 January, The Biblical World, Volume 53, Number 1, Religious Education,(Excerpt from “The Group Plan” by Rev. H. K. Williams in the “Young People’s Service”, Start Page 80, Quote Page 81, Column 2, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 73, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)