The other day one of the bosses circulated by email some kind of document discussing emergency procedures in the building, and I honestly would have read it were I not on deadline with 14 different things. I will still read it. Probably. Maybe. Actually, the email is now sinking like a stone through the great ocean of unread emails (about 11,000 at last count) in the disaster zone that is my communication operation. I hope there’s no emergency.
One thing I learned doing my book reasearch is that people don’t actually read reports. They don’t read their emails and they are not always in the loop. The one fella over here doesn’t know what the fella over there knows. If I were in charge of things, I’d make sure that any really critical piece of information was posted in the elevators and bathrooms.
You have to remember that people don’t behave the way they are supposed to behave. More generally, executives and managers and decision-makers need to remember that the military truism about battle plans (they don’t survive contact with the enemy) is true of most things in life. A plan is a good thing to have, to be sure, but you have to accept the fact that it will be abandoned in crunch time (and later mocked in the media).
Things go wrong. Count on it.
A line from my book, that. It’s not a profound statement, obviously. We all know about the law of unintended consequences. We’ve all heard of Murphy’s Law. A corollary to Murphy’s Law is that the plans and procedures that are crafted in advance to cope with the consequences of things going wrong will themselves go wrong.
So much of our political commentary is premised on the fantasy that if better people, smarter people, more competent people were in charge of this or that institution (government, the media, Wall Street, the educational system, the oil industry, the cable company, the Divison of Motor Vehicles, whatever), then our problems would go away. A more realistic approach accepts spillage, slop, theft, contamination, erosion, degradation, deceit, incompetency and error as intrinsic to all complex systems.
All executives need to have actuaries on staff, not just dreamers and visionaries and can-do types. You need to say: Great idea, but show me the single-point failure lurking in the middle of all this. (I have never said anything like that in my actual life, but maybe today’s the day.)
Adopt a sufficiently realistic attitude, and then, if things go wrong, you can say: I planned for that. And when someone says, yeah, but your plan for dealing with the failure has also failed, you can then say: I planned for that, too.
The ultimate backup plan is despair.
Always works for me.