When Stuff Goes Wrong
October 21, 2014
"Everyone has a good plan ... until someone punches them in the face."
On a given day, we endure thunderbolts of adversity. We're helpless against it. But there are setbacks and then there are catastrophes. Bad stuff happens; people break their word, the quarter forecast is deflating, a key person quits, and in the ratings business George Johns once opined, "Every seventh book is a fluke." How this applies to PPM weeklies is yet another syllogism. No matter your position or standing in life, things will go wrong, do go wrong, and what we do to parry these attacks of unplanned misfortune is solely up to us.
Now more than ever leadership demands courage and cool thinking under fire. These tenets may be helpful when things seem to be going against you:
My grandfather always reminded us, "If 10 problems are coming down the road, nine will never get there." Why agonize over things that haven't actually happened?
Things will go wrong. Knowing what to attack immediately and which to defer for better insight is important. For example, when faced with a question of profit and cash-flow, or tactical dispute over a logo change, solve the financial first.
Sometimes your best plan won't survive the first contact with reality. Planning is indispensible; plans are sometimes worthless (re-read Mike Tyson's quote above).
Corporate objectives or grandiose strategies are fine; works of art even, but they may have no connection to today's crisis or this week's threat stream.
On major-threat problems, focus on the decisive point of solution. Your research may say one thing but when all hell's breaking loose and three trends tell you otherwise, be prepared to bug out. Analysis is crucial; forward-action based on sound thinking is better. Ultimately only you and your core team can decide when to stay, when to go, in diverting from a plan when things go wrong.
Never make major decisions -- personal or professional -- after dark or on Sundays.
In judging the severity of a situational collapse, on the scale of "disastrous" to "not bad at all," the truth is probably equidistant from those extremes. Start your response/solution thinking there.
The best leadership understands that to do something uncommonly well, it's always a game of commitment-and-consequences. Too often the chaotic remnants of folding under pressure are silent testimony to a person or a team that gave up on a plan because they failed to recover from a thunderbolt. Recognition and decisive action turn setbacks into success.