The Quantum Mousetrap

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

Esperanza. But have a plan

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

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