The Quantum Mousetrap

Mark Eduljee's blog about Social Media Insights Intelligence and his FlightSim Movies

Archive for the ‘Life’s Learnings’ Category

Esperanza. But have a plan

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Camp Hope (Esperanza), the name given to the hastily constructed gathering of huts and humans that sprang up over the 33 Chilean miners trapped 2,300ft (a little less than 2 Empire State buildings end over end) underground. And while hope was kept alive, and it was nurtured by their families and the global media coverage, what were the men doing down below?

They had a plan: A plan that would help to keep them sane, as safe as possible, busy, and all towards a single end goal: getting to a point in time when they could rocket up to the surface and into the daylight.

But let’s back up a bit. It was 17 days before the world even knew that they had survived the shaft collapses. And by all accounts during that time, those men increased their chances of survival 10fold by organizing themselves and putting a survival plan into place – rationing food, water, assuming roles and responsibilities, working together. Imagine if they had instead let emotion and raw survival instinct dictate their courses of action. But instead they CHOSE to create a center of survival excellence and fellowship. Brilliant!!

Such acts of sheer tenacity, foresight, maturity, calm and integrity, inspire me.

Now I know the cynics among you will postulate that “they had no choice”, and that it was in their self-interests to work together. While it’s true that they were captives of their circumstance, to say that they had no choice diminishes the human spirit.

I choose to instead to believe that when you put people into extraordinary circumstances, most often, they will produce extraordinary, enduring, and righteous acts of creativity, courage and hope… just ask anyone who has been into combat, anyone who has taken the leap to start a business or human or political venture with just the seed of an idea, or, for that matter, raised children. (I wish they came with a help manual!)…Oh lighten up<s>

This post is therefore dedicated to all those who choose to act rationally, with forethought and intent, and whose realistic assessment of their situations gives them a higher probability of getting what they need. (See also one of my previous posts about Needs Vs. Wants)

That sounds like the definition of a plan to me!

At its very basic level, planning attempts to reduce chaos and unpredictability. We humans are hard-wired to prefer order and consistency. Social settings aside, surprises are generally a cause for angst. Successful individuals and teams understand this. We tend to be at our most productive, innovative and successful when our environment is stable.

Stability, in part, is driven by good planning. I think the miners figured that out early. If you think of it, what they were essentially trying to do was to create a stable, predictable environment which would increase their chances of being rescued. Of course it always helps if there are mature individuals who can naturally assume positions of leadership and calm.

Types of plans: There have been book written dedicated to the science and art of planning, so I’ll keep this brief and light. There are 2 kinds of plans: Proactive – the timely, intentional type, and Reactive – the “we-are-playing-catch-up” type.  And the attributes of each type seem to be:

Proactive Planning is… Reactive Planning is…
Intentional Forced
Uses foresight Generally playing “catch up” or “ ! ’ang on !”
Demonstrates maturity Demonstrates adaptability and resourcefulness
Built from the end Built to get over the end
Calm, but can be intense Often done with much animation, high volume, and with your hair on fire
A risk and path quantification exercise Pffft!…Details-smeetails… just let’s keep up!
Done with a longer horizon or timeframe “Lord, please help me get through this and I promise that I’ll <fill in the blank>
ADD your thoughts here ADD your thoughts here

Contingency planning is part of having a proactive planning strategy.

While it would seem that being proactive would be better for your blood pressure, I’m not ready or willing to suggest that one is “better” than another. Both have their time and place. Both have their uses.

Brief segue….It’s now time for one of those simplistic questions I often hear – “well…which one would you recommend or pick?” Which reminds me of what Marisa Tormei said during the trial scene in the movie My Cousin Vinny, when she blurts out during cross examination…“That’s a Bull$#!t question!”. Why do we demand simple answers to often complex issues? We always seem to want, “sound bites” or, “the top three”, or “just the facts”, “Pick one”.  Sheesh. Ever stop to think that maybe the best option you may have to plan for a certain event or circumstance is to plan to be proactively reactive? Take a seat grasshopper!

Anyway where were we?…oh yes, one’s not better than the other…Any way you slice it, the learning and the common thread is that it’s always better to HAVE a plan. Now, no one’s suggesting a life of regimentation and order, but strike a balance…there is always room and need for being spontaneous, but on the other end of the spectrum are the no-planning rudderless ships who get up each day and simply react to their circumstance. That’s not healthy or helpful in the long run.

I’ve noticed that good plans seem to have these common denominators: (in no priority order)

  • There is a desired and an agreed-on set of goals coupled with a clear understanding of the end or desired state.
  • There is an honest assessment of resources, paths, risks and dependencies. Without this, plans become unrealistic and won’t have a high rate of success.
  • There’s due diligence given to testing the plans assumptions
  • Time is spent researching options (what don’t we know that can either help or hurt us). One of the pitfalls here is to let research consume the process leading to a state of “perpetual planning”. It’s then a small step to paralysis and fear of moving forward.
  • Milestones/Trip wires, or in a non-business terminology – checkpoints, are built into the plan which allows one to track progress.
  • And finally, a contingency or backup set of actions to be taken in case everything starts to head south.

But it’s not good enough to just think up the plan. You need to test it too.

One of the methods I’ve used to test any plan I hatch is to throw a bunch of scenarios at it to see if it absorbs them, or cracks. As an example: Say you are planning something simple like a Christmas do for friends and neighbors (or enter your big traditional holiday here)…. Well, those are never ‘simple’. Anyway. You figure that ~30 will show up. Great. So you plan space, eats, and eggnog with Jahmaykin spice Ruuhm accordingly. Here’s a possible scenario… What if only 15 show up? Or maybe worse…what if your friends think that they can spread the cheer and, since you haven’t objected in the past when the total was lower, that 60% of them then decide and think its Ok to bring along Family who may be visiting “No probs, <yourname> wouldn’t mind”, because “<yourname> is really friendly and would love to meet my cousins from Timbuktu ”?  Suddenly you now have >50 people, half of them strangers, in your house! …Hmm… better make sure we have a point in the existing plan to be clearer in the invitation text “This is a small, just- friends affair.  We will meet family later”. There, that should do the trick.  Phew, glad we tested that aspect of our plan.

Throwing scenarios at the plan can be as simple as thinking of a bunch of “what if..”. better yet, have someone not familiar with the plan, but familiar with the end goal to ask the what if questions – this reduces the inherent bias you have as chief planner. Or, they can be as formalized as a SWOT exercise (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Either way, the need is to be sure to test.

But look who’s talking! I’m writing this post on a flight out to a conference at angels39 (pilot-speak for 39,000 feet above sea level) somewhere over the American countryside. And for all my talk of planning and testing, I let one slip by, proving that even the great ones are after all still human <s>. I forgot to pack my shaver! An essential item in the land of civilization!! The trip has been letter-perfect (so far) except for this stone in my shoe. Dang.

So the choice I have is to now go through the conference looking like an unshaven miner who has been stuck down a hole for 17 days, or, do I sheepishly let the hotel know I’ve been a forgetful bonehead and to please send a kit up to my room?

I have the luxury of picking up the phone and asking for help. The miners had to wait 17 days.

Sometimes no amount of planning can get you the help you need quickly.

They emerged clean shaven. That was for the cameras and national pride. I’d have preferred to have seen them wear their 69 day growth as a badge of honor for the battle they fought. And won.

But clean shaven or not, it doesn’t really doesn’t matter. In the face of extreme hardship and uncertainty, those remarkable individuals chose to not see themselves as victims, to come together, and to create the ultimate survival plan, to adapt, to collaborate, to overcome, and to triumph.

So the next time you see yourself staring down the black hole of chaos, uncertainty, and ambiguity don’t do 1 thing, and then do 2 things:

Don’t see a victim of circumstance. Fate and Destiny can be influenced by choosing to plan and act.

Do have Esperanza – be filled with hope for a brighter time.

Get up, dust off, and build a plan to see yourself through to a time when you can rocket up to the surface and into the daylight.

Image credits:
Camp Hope: BBC
First rescuer: Captured from live feed

I want a Lollipop! NOW!

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Its Father’s day in the USA, and I’m supposed to want a lot of sweeeet stuff on this special day – lots of big lollipops…camping equipment, tools, a shop vac, a boat, a shop vac for the boat; a 10 gallon hat; my very own recliner; a 20 million BTU barbecue, an electronic insect killer. And binoculars. Dang, if only I had a billion bucks!

It’s times like this when I want to know what I need to do next.

As a Father I know that instead of wanting more, I need to instead:

  • Live a life that makes my forefathers proud…one filled with integrity, kindness, personal responsibility. Intentional thoughtfulness.
  • Persevere. Do my best. In whatever capacity life demands of me, at home, at work, at play. Whenever.
  • Protect and nurture my children as they take their rightful place in this grand universe of ours

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like lollipops. I’m also not suggesting we all eschew a normal life for two-dimensional banality bound by austerity and reflection.

What I am suggesting is that there is a time for wanting a 10 gallon hat, and a time to realize that what’s really needed are 10 gallons of water instead.

Here’s an example of Wants vs. Needs to illustrate my point:  We’ve all seen the heart-wrenching pictures of birds covered in oil from BP’s gulf gusher. And then there is that daffy CEO of theirs going, “blah, blah… I would like my life back”. That’s what he wants!! Did he somehow miss the need to show how BP plans to get the Gulf ecosystem back on its feet? What the @BeeP# !

Another one: Ever been in a gathering of friends, or in one at work, which was called to arrive at some needed decision, only to wind up sidetracked and talking about what everyone wanted instead, or how they wanted to solve it? What happened to the need for a decision?

The child who is always “wanting” and craving something never really outgrows us. Getting what we want is a comforting, reaffirming thing. We like it. We want it.

But here’s the question: Is getting what you want, good for you?

Worse: Does getting what you want blind you from seeing what you really need?

And does it come back to burn you?

This “I want” phenomenon knows no size, cultural, political, business or language barriers. Trace any failed attempt to do ANYTHING, and I’ll bet that you’ll find, at the center, a relatively small number of people enjoying their lollipops while the majority did not get what they really needed, and are left to suck their thumbs instead for comfort.

Consider a few examples of the profound effect that a “want” can have if not reconciled with what’s really needed:

  • Energy policy: Wanting to maintain the viability of the global fossil-fuel industry has de-prioritized and sometimes de-legitimized the undeniable global need for reliable, renewable sources of energy. The result: we launch increasingly risky ventures to try to reach diminishing fossil fuel reserves in increasingly hostile places, followed by a higher probability of increasingly larger environmental disasters. BP’s transgressions notwithstanding, why then are we all so surprised and angry when the Gulf is painted brown?
  • The Middle East: Wanting solutions to be grounded on historical precedent has held back the need for peace and stability across the region. The result: over 60 years of bloodshed across many borders
  • Human condition: Wanting religious and cultural continuity smothers the basic need humans have to experiment, learn, and grow. The result: suspicion, unequal opportunity, exploitation, hunger, poverty. The list of human beings in need remains long.

Here are some less strategic, everyday “I want..” examples, balanced against what’s probably really needed instead…

Instead of saying “I Want…” Think “I Need…”
I want a bigger house (or insert any noun here) Why? Ask yourself Why, and then follow up your answer with 3 more Why follow-up questions. If you can’t justify the increased investment imposed on you or your family as a result, then you do not really need this lollipop. Remember the housing bubble?
I want respect! I need to behavior in such a way which would cause others to decide/want to respect me. Respect is earned. Are you earning the right currency?
I want more money I need to save more so I can spend it on things that I need.
This is also another why times 4 exercise. Why more money? …To buy ‘x’.
Why do you need ‘x’? Because I want to do ‘y’ with it
Why is it important to do ‘y’? Because it makes me feels good!!That’s a weak argument for wanting more money. There are other ways to help you feel good if that’s what you need.
I want the government to be less wasteful and live within its means! I need to make a list services I use that I’d be willing to give up, first, before I point to how others need to cut spending.There will always be someone who sees your “necessary service” as a “waste”.  Drive solutions. Don’t buy sound-bite lollipops.
I want to lose weight I need to commit to eating only what my body uses.

Weight in this case is a symptom, not a goal. Fix your need, and the weight issue will sort its self out.

I want you to like me I need to understand why it’s important to me that you like me.Find root cause. Address that. You will be liked as a result.
I want my team to meet its deadlines I need to remove barriers and provide leadership.Deadlines are a tactic, not a strategy. Focus on what you need to do to help your team be successful, not how you want them to meet dates.
I want better social media metrics Me too. So go fish.But seriously, first figure out what you need to accomplish from a business ROI perspective, then, gather the metrics you need to monitor and metric progress towards that objective.

Start with the end. Not the other way around.

How to recognize if what you want is a lollipop:

  • Crackling, crispy wrappers: Typically, wants wrapped in crackling crispy, noisy wrappers are really reactions to some sort of emotional stimuli – As an example: You have an older but still fully functioning smart phone which immediately begins to look like a brick after your friend buys the latest/greatest gadget. “Wow!! I want one too!”  Really?  What just changed from 1 minute ago?
  • Swirls of tantrums: These are great fun to watch…but a pain if you are on the receiving end of them. Bordering on the irrational, these wants are driven by the desire to project power. The best defense against these lollipops is time…try to let some time pass so that either conditions change, or a more calm state of mind can manifest
  • Lumps of misdirection: These wants are an attempt to drive a conversation or course of action that’s really designed to hide something.  They are easy to spot and hard to ignore. They create buzz and activity without results, so watch out for them. A dead giveaway is if the earlier expressed wants are quickly forgotten to be replaced with new flavors of the same want.  As examples: “I want to lose weight!” followed by “I want to lose only 2 lbs. a week”, followed by “I want to try the south beach diet. It really worked for Lauren!”, and then, “I want you to go on a diet with me to show your support, Please!”  Or how about a more National one … “I want you to be werry werry wowwid that there will be ‘death panels’”, and “I don’t want socialized medicine or a government takeover of my health decisions”… all wants that were screamed out during the recent health care debate in the US, but to what end? Misdirection aimed at highlighting and having needed discussions about inequities, escalating costs, and a Nation’s health crisis.
  • Sticky, icky, gooey causality: These are wants driven by the fear of unknown consequences. Since they often come from an uncertain state of mind, they tend to be reactive, ambiguous or without form. As an example, “If the decision is to kill that project then I want air cover while I attempt to continue to try to keep service delivery from being uninterrupted by its cancellation and the extra burden this imposes on my team”.  Say what??  You lose credibility and trust when you want these types of lollipops.
  • Traction taffy: These are wants that don’t really have any legs to stand on. They feel like they are getting you places but in reality you are bogged down, with no traction, going nowhere. The BP congressional hearing held last week was a classic example of taffy-in-the-making…well-meaning senators who wanted to pull Tony Hayward into answering their questions to help us all supposedly feel good about pointing our fingers at the bad guy, while he pulled the other way to avoid further damage. Lots of tug and pull and movement going nowhere. What is needed is leadership, not hearings, endless newscasts, or talking heads.

So the next time you find yourself beginning to say “I want…” think of a burning lollipop and see if you can separate your want from your need.  If you can, I’m betting that life will be sweeter. And your Father will be proud of you. I know mine would be.

And as a tribute to Him on this Father’s day here is a picture of us many lollipop moments ago. My Bro on the right, Dad and yours truly.

I now know that he wanted the best for me, but needed me to find my place in the universe. I think I feel Him smiling.

I now need to post this.

What do you need?

Flaming Lollipop image: