Archive for failure

Plan For Failure

Posted in Leadership with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2015 by Dale Wilson - Author of Command Performance

“I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.”

General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis

We all strive for victory.  Each one of us hates to lose.  After all, it is essential for us to succeed in our daily lives.  We are obviously not living life to fail.  But, fail we will.

As important as it is to plan for victory, it is just as important to plan for failure.  Every ‘battle plan’ should consider all contingencies.  But, victory, of course, hangs on the details, and behind those details are hidden the pitfalls that can spell disaster and defeat.  We often take our eye off the potential negatives and ultimately find ourselves facing the unexpected.  This can easily be avoided.

Last week, we again saw another data breach hitting Anthem Blue Cross.  And, again, many experts are saying that this ‘disastrous’ data breach was avoidable.  When I first heard about it, my first thought was how something like this could happen again.  Haven’t these major organizations learned from other data breaches, such as to Michaels Stores, Home Depot, Kmart and ebay?  Aren’t major corporations taking steps to prevent these kinds of disasters from happening to them?  I can understand maybe not recognizing the unknown, but I cannot accept these companies blatantly ignoring what is going on around them, and to their peers in various corporate circles.  Again, planning for failure is just as important as planning for success.

In a recent blog post on The Military Leader, entitled 5 Questions That Can Save You From Disaster, author Drew Steadman discusses how failure can be avoided by not getting caught off guard by things that could have been anticipated.  As he states in his article, “A few moments of reflection can cue you in to the key indicators. And asking hard questions will force you and your team to acknowledge the situation you face.”  But, what I take away from Drew’s article is that you cannot wait for things to happen, or circumstances to change, before putting into place a plan that could work to avoid failure.  It is important to be quite aware of the peripheral things, because failure or victory are contingent on how (or if) you recognize and react to them.

One thing that I am certain of is that there will be a lot of uncertainty when planning for any outcome.  In essence, failures and miscues can be avoided by taking action based on our anticipation of the known’s and the unknowns.  And, doesn’t that sound familiar:

Recommended Reading: “The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld

Part 1: Three Reporters

Part 2: The Known and the Unknown

Part 3: A Failure of Imagination

Part 4: Absence of Evidence Isn’t Evidence of Absence

As my youngest daughter, Kassandra, when she hears something so profound, says, “what does that even mean?”  When Donald Rumsfeld first uttered this statement during a press breifing in February 2002 about the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups, he was making a point that there are various levels of certainty and uncertainty based on our knowledge of the facts as we know them, and the facts that aren’t yet clear. [View video of Donald Rumsfeld’s comments HERE]

To better define this, I found an article on SmartOrg by Don Creswell that defined the 3 Basic Sources of Risk and Uncertainty, which came out of a presentation by Kelvin Stott.

My take:

  • We must remain cognizant of those things that we know, while not discounting the possibilities that we think aren’t likely to happen.
  • We need to open more widely the avenues of communication, encouraging everyone to say something if they know something; share knowledge.  Nobody can assume the other knows what they know, nor can they think the information isn’t important.
  • Be Inquisitive and curious.  Ask questions and challenge the status quo.
  • We need to use our imagination, as well as look at the intelligence that is available, to make the best decision possible at the time.

Bottom line: Think outside the box, and don’t ignore the obvious.

“Failure is in a sense the highway to success, as each discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true.”

John Keats (1795-1821) British Poet

In the military, disasters could be due to bad planning, bad execution, bad weather, general lack of skill or ability, the failure of a new piece of military technology, a major blunder, a brilliant move on the part of the enemy, or simply the unexpected presence of an overwhelming enemy force.  But, what bothers me is when defeat and failure occur as a result of a known and preventable cause.  There are many military disasters throughout history that you can spend hours researching and realizing that they could have been avoided.

Recommended Reading: The Five Biggest Disasters in American Military History

I’m not suggesting that we are always going to be perfect.  What I am saying is that paying attention to certain details can make the difference between success and failure.  Being aware and prepared, innovative and imaginative, proactive and intuitive, can all make a big difference.

“When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans, and set sail once more toward your coveted goal.”

Napoleon Hill (1883-1970) American speaker and motivational writer

As you look around at the people and organizations who are facing critical issues, problems, and crisis,[i] you should view those situations as instructive and constructive. They should, for you, act as lessons learned.[ii]  We can learn as much from other people’s failures, as we can from our own.  Try to recognize what took that person or organization into the direction of failure, and plan to do the things necessary to avoid them happening to you or your organization.

Don’t be smug thinking that these things cannot happen to you, or that they are rare or isolated incidents.[iii]  And, don’t be arrogant in the thought that these things can’t happen to you … Or, that ‘things just happen.’[iv]  Don’t let things happen because you failed to prepare, or you grew over-confident with success. Plan for failure.[v]  Don’t fall to complacency or laziness.

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Inspired by five consecutive Tweets (#5Star #5Tweet) I posted on Friday, February 13, 2015:
[i]     Tweet 1 of 5
[ii]    Tweet 2 of 5
[iii]   Tweet 3 of 5
[iv]   Tweet 4 of 5
[v]    Tweet 5 of 5
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