Friday, October 29, 2010

The Fifth Element

It has been quite a while since I published my last blog. The Summer and Fall go so fast that I forgot to think. Publishing this blog helps me do just that. It helps me think!

Dan Sullivan, the creator of the terrific executive coaching program, Strategic Coach, discusses what he call four common referability standards. I believe them to be actually four reliability factors. These are just as essential in business as they are in everyday life, which is why I have instilled these qualities and characteristics in my children.

  • Be on time.
  • Say please and thank you.
  • Do what you say you are going to do.
  • Finish what you start.

What's that? You ask. Those are only four?

Everybody calm down. I’ve added a fifth: Think before you act.

I tell this to my children all the time. (If only I had to say it once, how much more blissful life would be!) This fifth element applies just as much to my business associates as it does to my children—and to me. Actions have consequences. And not anticipating those consequences can make them inherently more dire.

Take the somewhat famous (or infamous) tale of a gentleman from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, who attempted to get rid of a pesky mouse. Once he caught the vermin, he threw it into a pile of burning leaves outside. The mouse, on fire, ran out from under the pile of leaves and back into the man’s house.

The poor mouse was destroyed. But if it is any consolation to you mouse-lovers, the house was destroyed as well. A clear case of not thinking ahead. The man was hell-bent on killing the mouse (in a despicable way). He did not anticipate the mouse would be momentarily alive, capable of running. He most certainly did not anticipate the mouse would be capable of running back into the house and lighting it on fire as well. And because he failed to acknowledge this possibility before throwing the mouse into a pile of burning leaves, he was consequently out one house.

Things go much better when you think ahead. Ask Tracy Porter of the New Orleans Saints. Some time ago, he picked off Peyton Manning and ran it back for a game-winning touchdown in the Superbowl. This wasn’t luck. Peyton Manning’s Colts ran their favorite play, a pass to the outside receiver. They had run this play a number of times during the game, and during the season. Tracy Porter knew there was a good chance they would run the play again. He anticipated and placed himself in the perfect spot for the interception. In his case, the consequences of his actions led to a Superbowl victory.

He thought before he acted.

So you decide.

Would you rather win a Superbowl or have a mouse burn your house down?

That’s what I thought. And speaking of thinking — of thinking ahead, in particular — you cannot run a successful business without anticipating what is around the corner. You might not always be right, but you will always be prepared. And being prepared will allow you to more readily adapt even when circumstances are not what you expected. Simply being reactionary to whatever events unfold is a sure-fire way to run your business into the ground. Time and time again, you will get caught blind-sided and be unable to deal with the crisis at hand. And if there’s one thing that’s for certain—one thing that does not require much forethought—there will be a crisis or two.

Beware: I’m getting ready to go off on a tangent.

Because thinking is The Fifth Element when it comes to reliability factors, and The Fifth Element is a fine science-fiction film staring Bruce Willis, let’s take another example of thinking ahead from a cinematic classic starring Bruce. In Die Hard, Bruce Willis is running all over Nakatomi Plaza battling terrorists. When he meets Hans, the ringleader, Hans acts like a frightened escaped hostage. Bruce tells him to relax, even handing him—the ringleader!—a gun.

Bruce Willis in "Die Hard"
Now everyone in the audience is yelling at the screen: “Don’t do it, Bruce! That’s the bad guy! Nooooo!”

Bruce turns his back and Hans tries to shoot him. But, surprise surprise, Bruce gave him an empty gun.

“You think I'm a shmuck, Hans?” Bruce says, as the audience breathes a sigh of relief.

Bruce thought before he gave Hans the gun. He thought: Should I give this guy a gun? I don’t know him. He could be a bad guy. I’ll give him an empty gun. If Bruce gave Hans a loaded gun and turned his back, that would have been the end of the Die Hard franchise and the title would have to be changed to Die Easy.

Before making momentous decisions involving the path your business is about to take, thoroughly examine all the potential outcomes for your decision. Think, if I do A, then B, C, and D might happen. You’re probably hoping for a particular outcome. But since there are no guarantees in life, simply operating on hope is just too risky. Consider what would happen if options C or D came to pass. Maybe these are less desirable options, maybe they are downright unacceptable—in which case perhaps not taking a certain action is the best possible scenario.

If you do go through with a specific plan, you need to also have specific plans ready for the possibility of things going wrong. That way, if things do take a turn for the worse, you can immediately go into action. You can say to yourself and your colleagues, “We thought this might happen, here’s what we need to do now.”

Having a plan of action in advance also allows for you and your colleagues to be more calm, in greater command when the — um — poker chips hit the fan. A lot of times, going into panic mode simply stokes the flames of a crisis. The ability to stay calm and keep a clear head is vital. And this cannot be done unless someone has planned ahead, has thought before they acted, has anticipated, and was prepared. In business, be a boy scout. Be prepared!

Today’s challenge:

Play a game of chess. Or learn how to play! No other game teaches you to think before you act like the game of chess.

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