Missing Steps Plan

At least it's straightforward.
We have it all figured out! Step One: we land the Exodar. Step Three: we defeat the Legion and go home. There is only one detail missing....
— Male draenei joke from World of Warcraft

A hilariously ill-conceived scheme that lacks the "scheme", or at least a well-thought out one. Often, it's not even clear how The Plan is supposed to work — but the planner thinks it's such a good idea, it has to work somehow.

The goal can be anything, such as "financial profit," "get the girl," "world domination," and "win." The point is that the plan contains a specific first step and a final step that benefits the planner, but misses a way to connect the two ends.

The implementation of the scheme is sometimes, but not always, ridiculously more expensive than any money they could hope to make on the off-chance the scheme is successful. Sometimes, it just flat out does not make sense — but due to the Unspoken Plan Guarantee, if anyone points this out it will of course succeed without a hitch.

See also Cut Lex Luthor a Check for when the intellect and hard work used to advance the plan would be far more profitable to the character if he just did an honest day's work, rather than work on his Evil Plan. When the character develops the middle steps as he goes along, it becomes an Indy Ploy. Compare also the Slippery Slope Fallacy (which is sort of like "Step three: loss"). Murder the Hypotenuse is an extreme example of "then I get the girl"-style plan. When Steps One and Two are all nice and clear but Step Three (the actual goal) is lacking, see And Then What?

A subtrope of Non Sequitur. Also known for acheiving Meme Status.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Invoked Trope in The Devil Is a Part-Timer!. Climb the economic ladder in MgRonald's. Conquer the World!
  • The SOS Brigade's Valentine's Day chocolate-making meeting in Haruhi-chan had the following steps:
    Phase 1: Make chocolate.
    Phase 2: Powder chocolate.
    Phase 3: Wrap chocolate.
    Phase 4: Unwrap and eat chocolate.
    Phase 5: ?
    Phase 6: Profit.
  • Kuragehime: Kuranosuke's plan to stop the tearing down of the Amamizu-kan boarding house:
    Phase 1: Clean up nicely the Sisterhood.
    Phase 2: ?
    Phase 3: Amamizu-kan saved
  • The title character of Shinryaku! Ika Musume has come up with a Take Over the World plot which goes like this:
    Phase 1: Turn Lemon Beach House into a home base.
    Phase 2: ?
    Phase 3: Conquer Earth.
  • Buried under half a dozen plans in Touhou's official manga Silent Sinner in Blue are two protagonists and one vampire who have unabashedly embraced the Missing Steps Plan. There are hints early on the vampire might be deliberately playing the fool here; she really couldn't have planned a step 2, but may have known about step 4 (collect gratitude and compensation for pretending the Missing Steps Plan was your idea). The other two are just used to plans like this, as under the Video Games section below.
    1. Go to the Moon
    2. ?
    3. Profit
  • In Saki Achiga-hen, Shizuno's plan after seeing Nodoka playing mahjong on TV is as follows.
    1. Go to Achiga All Girls Academy
    2. ?
    3. Go to the nationals in the mahjong tournament
    4. Face Nodoka again!
    • Shizuno gets the main flaws in her plan (she not only has to reform the Achiga mahjong club, but also get good enough to defeat Bansei) pointed out to her by her more level-headed friend, Ako, though, and realizes she has a point. Thankfully, their mutual friend Kuro has been cleaning the classroom for two years in the hopes that someone would come back, and brings in her sister and another friend.

    Comic Books 
  • The villains in Chick Tracts can sometimes fall into this, such as the gay rights group who wanted to make sure their children wouldn't be bullied by infecting the Red Cross' donor blood supply (which was kept in a huge vat) with AIDS.
  • The evil organization F.AN.G. (Fear, ANger, Greed) from Disney Adventures's Spy Kids comics runs on this. On one issue, they stole the heads on Mt. Rushmore to mount them on a giant robot body, only to find they had no plan for what the giant robot was supposed to do afterward. In another issue, they planned to destroy all the cereal in the world so that their 1 million dollar cereal "Fang Flakes" would create a cereal monopoly. How did they plan to destroy all the cereal in the world? They forgot to figure out how.
  • Jack of Fables' never-ending series of get-rich-quick cons either fall into this trope, or Didn't Think This Through. The very first arc was the aftermath of his attempt to take advantage of the dotcom bubble (a fairly long time after it had already burst,) via a scheme to have a notoriously amoral and vengeful Fable unwittingly finance it, and the ensuing Fawlty Towers Plot to cover it up. His partner in that particular escapade Rose Red also fell into this at first, though she gets loads of Character Development and matures, while Jack remains perennially incapable of foreseeing the likely consequences of his actions.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Avengers. Lampshaded by Tony in that same scene. "Right, got its attention. What the hell was step 2?"
    Step 1: Macross Missile Massacre the alien dragon to get its attention.
    Step 2: ???
    Step 3: Victory.
  • Team America: Played for Laughs with Tim Robbins' explanation for how corporations make money through the team.
    Tim Robbins: Let me explain to you how this works: you see, the corporations finance Team America, and then Team America goes out... and the corporations sit there in their... in their corporation buildings, and... and, and see, they're all corporation-y... and they make money.
  • Spider-Man's Green Goblin is never quite clear on what exactly his evil plan is, only that Spider-Man is the only one who can stop him from doing it and getting Spider-Man to join him in doing... whatever it is... will guarantee its success.
    Step 1: Kill all those jerks who took my company away.
    Step 2: Get Spider-Man on board with Step 3, largely by hurting people he cares about.
    Step 3: ???
    Step 4: Profit.

  • Catch22 has a comedic deconstruction, where Milo Minderbender spends chapters trying to figure out what step 2 is, including attempting to coat the cotton in chocolate and sell it as emergency rations.
    Step 1: Buy up the entire harvest of Egyptian cotton.
    Step 2: ???
    Step 3: Profit.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the Friends episode "The One In Vegas", Joey is convinced he's found his "identical hand twin", and that this will make his fortune. Somehow.
  • At a Dunder-Mifflin shareholder meeting, Michael attempts to pacify the crowd with a 45-day, 45-point plan for staving off bankruptcy, to be generated during a 15 minute break.
    Day 45, company saved. Day 44, go. What do we got?
    • The business plan of the short-lived Michael Scott Paper Company basically amounted to this too, considering they had no real capital or paper to sell. (At some point they got some, although it's not explained how).
  • Saturday Night Live had a sketch where a bank just made change, nothing else. When asked how they managed to stay in business, the spokesman replied, "Volume".
  • Taken to another level on My Family
    Nick: Iím going to become a dot-com millionaire.
    Ben: Really? Thatís great. So, shouldnít you, like, get a good idea first?
    Nick: But it is a good idea. Dot-com millionaire.
  • The "Money Momentum" scam sketch from The Kids in the Hall, with Those Two Guys targeting senior citizens.
  • In the 4th season of Parks and Recreation, Tom Haverford's friend and partner in get-rich-quick schemes, Jean-Ralphio receives a large sum of money. The two quickly begin to create their own business called Entertainment 720. Their goal being to have a large office filled with people whose only purpose is to entertain them, have a lot of merchandise with their name on it and being able to easily hand out expensive gifts like iPads to anyone who visit them. Their idea being that a successful company has such things and to be successful as well they just need those. What they completely ignored was the middle step that involves actually making money or knowing what their company is supposed to do at all. (Tom actually does have a semi-coherent idea: organizing/promoting events. This even plays to his strengths: Tom's a great party planner—the one they throw to mark the end of e720 was agreed to be Pawnee's best ever. But he never really goes through with the idea.)
  • In season 3 of Shameless (US) this is essentially Jimmy's plan for the future. He is in love with Fiona but is also in a Citizenship Marriage with a drug lord's daughter. He is broke but cannot go back to stealing cars for a living since being arrested would get his wife deported and her drug lord father would be violently pissed off if that happened. Jimmy then hits on the idea to go back to university and become a doctor. Not only does he lack the funds to do so but there is no guarantee that he would graduate given his temperament. Everyone else sees the idea as horribly mistimed but Jimmy holds onto it like an Idiot Ball.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Barney is usually a master of the Batman Gambit when it comes to getting women to sleep with him. But one of his last plays, "Weekend at Barney's" falls into this. It's not clear how his plan of pretending to be dead while his friends "pretend" that he's still alive was intended to make women attracted to him.
  • In Once Upon a Time episode "The New Neverland", Snow has one of these in regards to stopping the Evil Queen from casting her spell. Step 1: Kill Medusa. Step 2: ????. Step 3: Regina's defeated! This is even lampshaded by Prince Charming who asks how exactly killing Medusa will help, does she plan on sending Regina Medusa's head in a box? Not only does this plan fail miserably, but Charming is very nearly killed.

    New Media 
  • The format has become a bit of a meme in certain parts of the internet. Can be combined with almost anything, and be any length as long as the last two steps are "????" and "Profit". Example using tropes:
    Phase 1: Launch Evil Plan
    Phase 2: Do Evil Laugh
    Phase 3: ????
    Phase 4: Profit
  • Subverted in LoadingReadyRun's "The New Old Thing" sketch where the idea to essentially sell pirated copies of MS Dos looks like this trope but there actually is a well reasoned argument made for why it might actually work and who their customer base would be. In the end it is the Profit step that fails to materialize since the business plan is simply impractical.
  • Ladies and Gentlemen: How to Draw an Owl.
  • Death Note: The Abridged Series (kpts4tv) changes Light Yagami's grand scheme to:
    1: Kill celebrities.
    2: Distract the media with their deaths.
    3: ???
    4: Become god of the new world.
  • A variant is presented in this video:
    First you start the Skype call
    Then you grab a beer
    Then you start recording, and...
    Something Kirby race!

    Newspaper Comics 
  • A well-known Sidney Harris cartoon has two sets of complicated mathematics on a blackboard, with "Then A Miracle Occurs" written between them as the "explanation" of how one is derived from the other.
    "I think you should be more explicit here in step two."
  • This was a running gag in Doonesbury comics during the DotCom Boom. A character started a DotCom company and began Step One by finding venture capitalists to invest in his company. He was so successful at this that he never got around to figuring out what Step Two was supposed to be. To his great amazement the company actually developed a Step Two on its own but he does not find out what they were actually selling until the very end when Microsoft forced them out of business.
  • In FoxTrot, Jason also had at least one arc where his plan amounted (as many other examples here) to Step 1: Create a DotCom company; Step 3: Profit when investors come running. He gets called on this twice. The first time, he claimed he'd just buy out another company with his profits, but when potential investors start asking, the only thing he could show them was a "dinky little program [he'd] written for fun".
    Andy: And that killed off interest?
    Jason: Actually, it killed off the Internet.
    Coincidental Broadcast: Tonight's top story: the "Darth Jason" computer virus. Is there hope for mankind?
    • On at least one occasion, it was obvious to anyone what Step 2 should be, except Jason himself. He created a website that contained nothing but repeated requests for the viewer to buy advertising space from him. When Peter asked him where the content is, Jason just got confused.

    Video Games 
  • Trolls on the Runescape forums use this quite a bit on "How do I make money" threads. Step 1. Cut willows. Step 2. ? Step 3: Profit (Willow logs are very cheap, around 13 GP each, and as a reference, 2 million GP is considered broke by many players.)
  • Recordshop Tycoon references this trope: Under the "The Office > Marketing Menu > Prices", you see a convenient illustration: Step One: Karma and Average Selling Price. Step 2: ? Step 3: Profit
  • Utsuho, the Final Boss of Touhou Chireiden ~ Subterranean Animism, has one of these as her "grand plan", with Step One being "Reignite the Hell of Blazing Fires" and Step Three being "Take Over the World!". Entirely justified though, as even before she went mad with power she was deeply stupid.
    • This applies to pretty much every Touhou game.
    Step 1: See a problem
    Step 2: Blow up youkai
    Step 3: ??
    Step 4: Profit (or lack of...)
  • Dr. Ned in Borderlands indicates he is going to do evil for the sake of profit. Evil seems to be raising the undead for recreational use. Later on he admits that step two never materialized and he's broke.
  • The Sims Medieval has a quest in which one of your heroes intends to learn the secret of creating life. The description ends with "...And somehow profit from it".
  • The Apprentice from Orcs Must Die sometimes says this gem when placing a coinforge, an item that increase the monetary reward of any mob killed on it:
    • "Step 1, Put down coinforge. Step 2: Something with orcs but I forget. Step 3: Profit!
  • A long-running joke among those who know Resident Evil is that the Evil Plan of the Umbrella Corporation is always:
    Phase 1: Zombies!
    Phase 2: ???
    Phase 3: Profit.
  • In Dragon Age II, Isabela needs to get rid of the crime boss Castillion before he has her killed, and hits on the idea of using his subordinate Velasco to get at him. She sums up her initial plan thusly:
    Isabela: Step one, we go to Velasco. Step two... something exciting happens. Step three, profit.
  • World of Warcraft provides the quote mentioned above. To make it even funnier, the Exodar crash landed on Azeroth.
    • The Goblin quote doesn't even bother about a step one or two. "Skip to step three: profit."
  • In Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, Johnny doesn't really have a detailed plan for saving the Boss beyond "shoot the Devil in the face". Kinzie calls him out on it, and later he admits it himself.

    Web Comics 
  • Shortpacked!
    • Galasso appears to have the following long-term plan: "1. Dominate the toy store market, 2. ?, 3. Take Over the World."
      • His Dumbing of Age counterpart seems to be attempting the same with a pizza parlor.
    • Another Shortpacked example appears in this strip, where Ethan is trying to run the store. "1. Lie. 2. ??? 3. Profit."
  • Ganondorf's master plan from the Zelda Comic is shown at one point to be "Step I. Punch Link, Step III. Rule World." Brilliant! To hell with step 2, man; he's busy!
  • 8-Bit Theater:
    • In this Red Mage's escape plan consists entirely of "Jail, Action/Hijinx, Freedom!"
    • Another plan is a variant on the theme. He reasons that the logic of his previous plans was their flaw (since a failure at any one step meant the whole thing fell apart), so he devises a plan utterly devoid of logic; that way, even if one step goes tits up, it didn't actually have any connection to the next step, so the plan as a whole could soldier merrily forward regardless.
  • When Freddie the Flying Fetus asks Bob the Angry Flower to fill in the missing steps in his plan, he actually does so. Sort of.
  • In Freefall, Kornada's "plan" seems to go like this:
    1. Make the Ridiculously Human Robots download GITD.
    2. Lobotomise them.
    3. ?
    4. Profit.
    • However, he does have a step three - or rather his assistant robot executing the whole thing has. The way corporations seem to be run in the Freefall universe, it's unlikely Kornada was ever competent at anything and he simply does not understand or care for the specifics (or consequences.)
  • In this strip of Loserz, in-comic:
    1. FORCE people to get fat.
    2. ???
    3. Profit!
  • Sluggy Freelance:
    • Torg runs into this problem once.
    Torg: There's another one of me running around?
    Riff: You sound excited.
    Torg: Two of me! Think of the possibilities!
    Riff: Nope. Can't think of anything.
    Torg: We could do a really cool Doublemint commercial!
    • In "Brie Meighsaton House", Riff has been staying up at nights to photograph the ghost of the sobbing woman that seems to haunt the house. When Torg asks him what good that will actually do, his response is "Do I have to think of everything?"
    • In "Living Conditions":
    Torg: How would that "save" us?
    Riff: It's big and clunky, better for head smacking!
    Torg: What about the other two guys with guns?
    Riff: I dunno. Hit them with a chair or something? Do I have to think of everything?
  • Erfworld has a variant. Wanda admits she doesn't know what the missing step is but also firmly believes You Can't Fight Fate so she is going through with the plan anyway.
  • In Rusty and Co., Madeline actually has a full plan. All the odder in that she's The Ditz.
    1. Find Baddies.
    2. Smite Baddies.
    3. Profit!
  • Ask Axe Cop #75 has a race of gill-men who want to remove all the land from Earth, but even they aren't sure how
  • Peter Is the Wolf had a four step plan in an attempt to get the Titular character back with his girlfriend, who dumped him over a very much Not What It Looks Like misunderstanding.
    Step 1 : Jean explains to Sarah what really happens
    Step 2 : Jean persuades Sarah that I need to leave for good
    Step 3 : How the hell do we get from there...
    Step 4 : ... Getting me and Sarah back together again.

    Web Original 
  • The What If? entry "Pyramid Energy", asking if the energy it took to build the Great Pyramid would be enough to send a mission to the moon and back, uses this in the second image. Said image consists of the pyramid broken down and fed through a box marked "?", then launching a rocket.
  • In his Sword Art Online sporking for Das Sporking, Raxis references this trope when he complains that the author needlessly spelled out everything for them.
    Raxis: No kidding. Reki, do you have trust issues? I promise, we can follow your stupid little plot without having to be guided through it. Itís basically sums up to:
    1. Whacko computer designer traps 10K people for no reason.
    2. Gary Stu frees everyone
    3. ???
    4. Profit 8D
    • Later, when the Big Bad reveals that he didn't actually have a reason for tampering with the MMORPG and trapped ten thousand people just for the sake of doing so, Raxis rages that his plan is even worse and now boils down to, "Make Game, Trap Players, ???, Players Trapped!!!"

    Western Animation 
  • The Underpants Gnomes from South Park, as seen in the image (and thus are the former Trope Namer from when the trope was called Step Three: Profit). They go around at night collecting vast quantities of underwear, which they will use to profit. Somehow. As shown, the chart has become a Memetic Mutation. Every gnome figured that some of the other gnomes knew what step two was, and that it was being kept secret for a very, very good reason, which is why they didn't question it.
  • American Dad! "Minstrel Krampus": Santa Claus plans to make a fortune by giving toys to everyone whether they are naughty or nice and buying shares in toy companies.
    Santa: The naughty kids buy the most toys!
    Roger: Wait. What? Kids don't buy toys. You give toys away. How does that make money?
    Santa: Do not overthink this!
  • Some of the plots of the Legion of Doom in Super Friends ran this way. They were foiled every time, of course, but their schemes would include an often equally expensive escape plan.
    • They would go to some ridiculous expense to get some item that would brainwash the Super Friends into walking into a volcano, thus clearing the way for the Legion's conquest of the world or something.
    • One time, Cheetah and Bizarro turned people into Cheetah- and Bizarro-people, for no adequately explored reason.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy:
    • Parodies this trope by having Eddy start a smalltime corporation with the cul-de-sac kids that was only focused on "going up". Once people realize that the corporation was basically doing nothing, and that everybody was working without pay, everybody left except the Eds (which of course, is Truth in Television).
    • In the episode where Ed makes a scam, the plan goes from zany to ridiculous and disjointed. In the end, it turns out he was attempting to recreate the plot of one of his horror(?) comic books.
    Phase 1: Put the rock on the 'X' 'Q'.
    Phase 2: Dress Eddy and Double D outlandishly.
    Phase 3: Have Double D give Eddy the pancakes.
    Phase 4: Paint a cement mixer like an Aztec temple.
    Phase 5: Steal teddy bear.
    Phase 6: Bite into teddy bear's stomach.
    Phase 7: ???
    Phase 8: Curse of Evil Tim (Profit?)
    • Many of Eddy's plans could probably be summed up as this, especially ones where he actually seems to go out of his own way to sabotage, such as randomly putting a bowling pin in a cream puff they were selling (to make it bigger maybe?)
  • In one episode of Super Chicken, a villain named "The Geezer" attempts to steal the geyser "Old Facefull" from Yellowstone National Park. The narrator questions his motivation:
    Geezer: There's a million things you can do with a geyser!
    Narrator: Such as?
    Geezer: Uh ... I'll think of something!
    • Eventually, The Geezer does come up with a use for Old Faceful: He opens a car wash.
  • One episode of TaleSpin had Rebecca coming up with a number of get-rich-quick schemes of this variety. The missing step two seems to be "get brutally slaughtered by hostile natives".
  • The villain of Pound Puppies and The Legend of Big Paw takes this to an extreme:
    Phase 1: Steal a MacGuffin that allows humans and dogs to understand each other
    Phase 2: ?
  • In Dan Vs.., Dan's plan to overcome the terrible traffic in LA:
    Procure monster truck.
    Crush all cars in way.
    • Dan is very prone to doing this. Chris even mentioned one time that his current plan was more of a goal than a plan, so Dan changes it to something more like a checklist.
  • Freakazoid!! Lampshades this in a fight against a giant snake:
    Phase 1: Loud Conan warcry
    Phase 2: Charge and grab giant snake by the neck
    Phase 3: Make something up
    • The Lobe once had a machine that could turn people into clowns, which he thought would help him take over the world because "Everyone likes clowns". Freakazoid ends up just talking him out of it by pointing out that no one likes clowns. After a dejected Lobe leaves, Freakazoid admits that it was an awesome plan.
  • Brain's plans from Pinky and the Brain usually follow this route. He explains them as "implement some bizarre technological gizmo and rise to power in the ensuing confusion", never actually explaining how he was planning to seize power.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Doofenshmirtz' plans to take over the Tri-State Area often involves publicly humiliating his brother, the mayor, hoping this will create a power vacuum that he can use to his advantage. An example:
    Phase 1: Doof: I know it sounds complicated, but I've thought this one through. Babies cry, everyone's unhappy...
    Phase 2: ???
    Phase 3: Doof...and I somehow take over. It's foolproof!
  • Homer Simpson has probably run through quite a few, but usually they're more Zany Schemes than this; however, he once ran an online business whose business plan was something like:
    Phase 1: The Internet.
    Phase 2: ???
    Phase 3: Profit. (Still gets bought out by Microsoft, though.)
    • The internet dot com bubble basically ran on this exact plan, pets.com being the poster child of an ill-defined business plan relying on the mystical powers of the internet to make money when conventional business savvy dictated to look elsewhere. In fact, one business magazine cover questioning the viability of this model at the time even used the Simpsons as an illustration, showing Bart wearing a T-shirt advertising his internet start-up (bucks2bart.com) and Mr. Burns hefting a huge sack of money he was evidently planning to invest in it.
    • When Artie Ziff went broke, his explanation started with him telling he was dot com billionaire and he was quickly told he didn't have to explain anything else.
    • Homer tries to remember the fire safety plan at the nuclear power plant: "When the fire starts to burn, there's a lesson you must learn. Something something, then you'll see: You'll avoid catastrophe! D'oh!"
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Every plan concocted by the Cutie Mark Crusaders ever.
    • Applejack's business plan from My Little Pony Friends Forever issue 8 turns out to be this. This is ultimately deconstructed (of all the things to deconstruct) when Rarity explains Applejack is supposed to strike a deal with a potential middleman, not just set up a fruit stand like she does in her home town.
      Phase 1: Sell apples
      Phase 2: ???
      Phase 3: Turn a profit. (Somewhat more thought out than most.)
  • The Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines episode "Have Plane, Will Travel" had the Vulture Squadron transferred to a desert island where Klunk uses whatever implements at hand to create a flying machine to stop Yankee Doodle Pigeon. One such machine is made out of a tree trunk which is catapulted through the air.
    Dastardly: Now that we're up here, how are we supposed to stay up?
    Klunk: Spin the (whirring and cracking noises) propeller.
    Dastardly: (seeing no propeller at the plane's nose) Propeller? What propeller?
    Klunk: Uh oh...I knew I forgot something! (plane nosedives into the ocean)

    Real Life 
  • One of the MIT Mystery Hunt puzzles in 2008 featured this as a puzzle device.
  • An anecdote about the ancient Greek general Pyrrhos (the guy who inspired the expression "Pyrrhic victory") is an inversion, with no steps missing, but rather, all the intervening steps between the starting point and the goal completely unnecessary. A Greek philosopher asks Pyrrhos what he is trying to do. Pyrrhos replies that he intends to conquer Rome. And then what? Then it's time for Carthage! And then? Greece and Egypt! And then you've done that and you control pretty much of a central and Eastern Mediterranean? Then it's time to be happy and party all night! But, you're rich. You can do that right now, without going through the risks of war. Pyrrhos failed to take this excellent piece of advice.

Alternative Title(s):

Underpants Gambit, Step Three Profit