I was recently sailing with my daughter on Chautauqua Lake in western New York State. We were enjoying the day when she asked, “Are we sinking?” I thought the question absurd until I looked down in the cockpit and saw the bailer plug floating free and water gushing out.
“Why yes. Yes, we are.” I said.
Being two miles off-shore I knew we were in trouble so I moved to rectify the situation. I reacted too quickly, throwing us off balance and in an instant, both of us were floundering in the water.
My knee-jerk reaction compounded the problem. Our immediate attention shifted from getting safely to shore to getting back into the boat.
Our sailing adventure is a great lesson in: (1) the need to pay attention and monitor the things that are essential to success, and (2) not overreacting, so that the response doesn’t magnify an issue, turning a simple challenge into a full-blown crisis.
When a succession of critical mishaps occurs, it is easy to lose track of the original problem. Just because you fix the most pressing issue doesn’t mean the boat isn’t still sinking.
One way to remain in control is to foresee problems ahead of time.
When have you done this successfully and what was the result?
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This reminds me of chaos in the operating room. Even though we were well-prepared, things can get out of control at times. In my retirement I have occasional bad dreams where I am giving an anesthetic. All of a sudden I realize that one drug or piece of equipment is missing. This should not happen to a compulsive type A anesthesiologist.
Warren – Thanks for your observations. We want our anesthesiologists to be compulsive!! You cited an excellent example how important it is to identify the things that will promote success, as well as, what might derail your best efforts, and how might these potential derailers occur. It’s been my experience (outside of the OR) that we are more focused on success factors while ignoring or minimizing failure factors. Clearly, there needs to be robust checks and balances.
Best regards – Clyde
One of the values of experience is the ability to broadly view the landscape, evaluate alternatives and then execute. Impulse reaction is not usually the answer, rather thoughtful and timely reaction. The obvious does not always emerge instantaneously. Also, the word “unflappable” comes to mind in crisis situations. Be calm and thoughtful and others will follow your lead. Great concept to think about as we all respond to the crisis de jour.
Paul – thanks for your comments. You are absolutely right – remaining calm, cool, and collected in the midst of a crisis are key ingredients to be able to objectively assess the situation. I’m a proponent of balancing the exploration of multiple perspectives while prioritizing my options with a high sense of urgency to act.
When I took my first job after leaving the friendly confines of R & L outplacement everyone told me at my new company how crazy the business was in the month of October, their heaviest month of production. Part of my new responsibility was as director of customer service, production control and quality, so I was in for a storm. After the 5th person told me about how crazy October was going to be I went to my new boss and told him that I wanted a week of vacation in October. He thought I was nuts. Over the next several months I convinced him that if you expect chaos you should not be surprised by the outcome. If you do proper planning, you can anticipate and plan around obstacles in advance. In a dynamic business environment things always change at the last minute, but if you have done proper planning up front, and you have looked at contingencies, last minute surprises are not so daunting. In the end, I took my vacation in October, the plant produced more product running 6 days instead of 7, and we met all delivery requirements. All it took was a little pre-planning and cool heads when surprises happened.
John – congratulations on settling the troops down and helping them prepare for the annual hysteria that typified your business. One of our mantras is: “Anticipate, Prepare, Practice, Practice, Practice.” It sounds like you were able to raise your organization’s anticipatory skills while enhancing their “wisdom capabilities.” I imagine you asked your team a powerful question, such as – “Given that we’ll have peak demand in October, what must we do to accommodate increased sales, while eliminating the firefighting?”
This story reminded me of occasions both in sailing and in business when the “local” situation was fine; however, signs were apparent of potential stress “off in the distance” but apparently moving toward you . I have learned, in business as well as in sailing, that it is more satisfying to have made preparation that turned out not to be needed, than to fail to take precautions and end up underwater.
Amen to that, Paul! There is a reason why people in Hurricane Alley have steel shutters and doors that they secure when gale force winds whip up the seas and produce flood conditions. And to your point, these people are ever so grateful when they didn’t have to use them. It is also true that organizations would greatly benefit from realistically identifying the accelerants AND roadblocks to success.
Regards – Clyde