There are two opposite person’s approaches to life: planned and spontaneous.

People who are dominated by a planned approach to life prefer an orderly, structured environment with a certain system of regulations. They are organized and consistent, make sure that everything goes according to plan, feel at ease when everything is known in advance. Their strategy is PLANNING AND CONTROL.

People who have a predominantly spontaneous approach to life are focused on direct perception. They believe that life is changeable and unpredictable, are open to new information and experience, act situationally, according to circumstances. Their strategy is to BE FLEXIBLE AND LIVE IN THE FLOW.

The table below shows the typical characteristics of the two approaches.


People with the planned approach tend to have a regular rhythm of life, like to have a plan for all occasions, have clear goals and consistently approach them. They can focus on one task for a long time temporarily limiting other needs and without being distracted.

People with the spontaneous approach prefer a flexible rhythm of life, can make plans, but rarely stick to them. They do not tend to concentrate on one thing for a long time, their attention easily switches to new information.

Due to the tendency to in-the-moment perception, people with the spontaneous approach easily adapt to changing situations and quickly pick up new ideas. People with the planned approach also like changes, but changes must be planned. If circumstances change, they need time to get used to them and re-arrange their plans.

Example. Thomas and Claire decided to go to the cinema. Thomas (who has a spontaneous approach) is convinced that tickets can be purchased at the venue. And if they are not there, the plan can be changed: watch another movie or go to a cafe. Life will throw them the best option. However, Claire (who has a planned approach) is sure that tickets must be purchased in advance so that everything goes according to plan.

Planning types tend to be categorical in their judgments, strive for clarity and closure, summing up intermediate results. Their statements are unambiguous: “yes” is “yes”, and “no” is “no”. Spontaneous types like to have an open choice, they avoid closure and categorical statements. By "yes" or "no" they often mean "maybe".

Attitude to rules, restrictions and obligations   

People with the planned approach value order and reasonable restrictions, tend to keep agreements, easily tune in to established rules and procedures, abide by them, and expect others to do the same. Rules, laws and order provide them with a sense of security and stability.

People with the spontaneous approach value a sense of freedom and the ability to act spontaneously. They prefer a flexible lifestyle without rules and restrictions, they try not to bind themselves with obligations and agreements. Rigid adherence to the schedule limits their creativity.

What approach is typical for you?

Do you clearly express your position, avoid ambiguity, tend to arrange for activities ahead of time, do not like to change your decisions (planned approach)? Or vice versa, do you act without feeling a need to organise beforehand, do you avoid being categorical, your decisions are not final, because circumstances may change (spontaneous approach)?

In relationships, do you prefer to play by the rules and stick to agreements (planned approach)? Or do you try not to bind yourself with obligations and agreements, a sense of freedom is very important to you (spontaneous approach)?

The benefits and pitfalls 

These are some of the benefits and pitfalls of the spontaneous and planned approaches. Neither is right or wrong – it depends on what is the most effective behaviour for the circumstances.

People with the PLANNED approach.

* Can focus on one goal for a long time without being distracted;
* Value order, laws and rules, tend to comply with agreements;
* Consistent, systematic, tend to complete tasks;

Potential pitfalls:
* Inflexible, may become stressed if things do not go as planned;
* Fixation on a certain task or emotion, difficult to switch from one thing to another;

People with the SPONTANEOUS approach.

* Respond flexibly and in a timely manner to changes, easily adapt to new circumstances;
* Stay open to new things, are not limited by stereotypes;
* Creativity, unconventional approach;

Potential pitfalls:
* Difficult to complete things, inconsistent, unorganized;
* Often change their views, decisions and promises. They don't always mean literally what they say.

While we have a natural tendency to respond and operate in certain ways, we can flex our approach depending on our experience and the needs of the situation.

Rationality and irrationality

Planned and spontaneous approaches are similar to the Carl Jung's concepts of rationality and irrationality. He was the first to divide all types of people into two groups: Rational and Irrational.

In the general population, preferences for rationality and irrationality are probably split roughly 50/50.

Many believe that women are irrational. Since the distribution of mental attitudes between the sexes is even, roughly half of the women are rational (planning), and half are irrational (spontaneous). The same goes for men. Approximately half of men are rational, and half are irrational.

In reality, most of us show a mixture of both planned approach and spontaneous approach, though the balance between them might vary.

It should be noted that in addition to innate propensity, the manifestation of rationality/irrationality in a person is strongly influenced by his environment. For example, if a person is rational, and his parents are irrational, then such a person will show certain acquired tendencies towards irrationality.

The integral type of nation or country also has a strong influence on human behavior. There are countries with a strong predominance of a rational (planned) approach: Germany, China, Great Britain, USA, Poland, Ukraine. In such countries, a person with an innate tendency to irrationality will have many rational traits in his behavior. Conversely, if a person with an innate tendency to rationality lives in countries such as India, Russia or Japan, in which the irrational (spontaneous) approach prevails, there may be many irrational traits in his behavior.

Conflicts and misunderstandings    

Due to the big difference in approaches, conflicts and misunderstandings can arise between planning and spontaneous types.

* Shared household. Planning types are more inclined to organizing space and following certain rules on the territory. They have a special system for placing food in the refrigerator, dishes on the shelves, hangers in the closets or pictures on the walls, they monitor the order in the placement of things. Spontaneous types in everyday life are less structured, they are characterized by greater freedom in the organization of space, they perceive rules as restrictions. They don't understand why others make things so complicated by placing things in a strict order.

* Clarity in statements. Here’s an example of misunderstandings between the planned and spontaneous approach from the book of Ichak Adizes (1).

The (E)-type husband comes home one night and says to his wife, “I’m so exhausted. We need a vacation.”
She asks, “Do you really mean it?”
He says, “Yes.”
What will an (A) immediately start doing, the moment she hears the word 
"yes"? She'll start organizing: Do they have the right clothes? Where is the suitcase? Who’s going to water the plants in their absence? Who's going to take care of the dog? She's getting ready.
But her husband comes home the next night and says, "What on earth are you doing?"
"I'm organizing for our vacation.”
"What do you mean, vacation? Don’t you know how much work I have to do?“
"But you said ‘yes’," she replies, astonished.
"I did not say 'yes’ [the word starting out pitched high and ending low – meaning yes],” he says, annoyed. I said ‘yes’ [starting out pitched low and ending high – meaning maybe]!”

You see, for an (E), a “yes” actually means “why not?” It is not a real “yes!”  But for (A), it is very difficult to say "yes" - it is practically like giving birth - so if he finally says "yes”, he really means it.
This simple misunderstanding causes (A)s and (E)s to have difficulty communicating and getting along. In fact, the (A) often decides that the (E) is a liar, that his word is not to be trusted.

In your opinion, which of the two has a planned approach and which has spontaneous one?

* Expenses. Planning types tend to make planned purchases, control expenses, and save. Spontaneous types, on the contrary, are not prone to planning, they like to catch opportunities and are not inclined to limit their needs. It may seem to the planning type that the spontaneous type spends money very recklessly, does not keep accounting of finances, and does not know how to save. And to the spontaneous type, the planning type may seem stingy, since he tends to keep the financial sphere under control.

* Joint activity. Planning types want preliminary agreements, they may experience tension until the issue is closed and until the decision is made. However, the spontaneous ones are not in a hurry to make promises because they don't know how the circumstances will develop, they want to have an open choice. Spontaneous types are annoyed by the obligations and inflexibility of the partner. The planning ones are annoyed by the irresponsibility and carelessness of the partner. It can be difficult for such a couple to agree on joint activities.

Here’s an example of misunderstandings in international business environment from the book of Richard D. Lewis (2).

The word contract translates easily from language to language, but it has many interpretations. To a Swiss, Scandinavian, American or Brit, a contract is a formal document that has been signed and should be adhered to. Signatures give it a sense of finality. But a Japanese businessperson regards a contract as a starting document to be rewritten and modified as circumstances require… The American calls the Japanese unethical if the latter breaks a contract. The Japanese says it is unethical for the American to apply the terms of the contract if things have changed.


How to improve interactions with planning types.

* Planning types usually have a plan for the day, and if something unexpected, even pleasant, suddenly happens, it annoys them, because it disrupts their plans. Therefore, it is better to warn planning types about changes in advance, so they have time to adjust. Planning types don't like it if you agree on something and then change it at the last minute, so try to stick to your agreements.

* Planning types are usually focused on some goal or some task, and can get angry if they are distracted from their work.

* Try to express your position clearly, because planning types do not tolerate uncertainty. Do not speak ambiguously or allegorically, it causes distrust in them.


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1 - Adizes, I. (2004). Leading the leaders: how to enrich your style of management and handle people whose style is different from yours. Santa Barbara, CA: Adizes Institute Publications.

2 – Richard D. Lewis. When Cultures Collide: Managing successfully across cultures. Different Languages, Different Worlds. London 1996. Copyright Richard D Lewis.

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 Correlation between ENNEAGRAM and JUNGIAN TYPOLOGY: let's explore together

Poll: Are you more planned or spontaneous?

After reading the article, you could indicate your approach (planned or spontaneous) and indicate your Enneagram type in the poll here

Last updating 31.10.2023

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