By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
Failure to plan is planning to fail.
Anyone remember that basic business advice from a generation or so ago?
It might be simple, but it certainly has not been well-used in business or government lately.
As any small, independent business owner knows all too well, one unexpected disaster can sink a business.
Large businesses (and government agencies) usually have a bit more margin for error – but even they do not have infinite resources.
I had a friend who ran a local independent business. One day he was complaining about how much it cost to “train” his employees.
As he was speaking, a mutual friend approached who was a career military officer. He reminded us that the military spends most of its budget – and time – on training. There is literally nothing more important – and life-saving – than solid training; no matter how much it costs.
Good training, he insisted, was the best investment any organization, from small business to military global expeditionary force, could ever make.
The second-best investment, he went on to say, was preparation – plans for any and all exigencies – which is a two-dollar word for possible screw-ups or unforeseen disasters.
And, as any historian, or movie-watcher, knows, military screw-ups have cost millions of lives, billions of dollars and cultural and human losses far beyond measure.
Military training, and even entire institutions, are dedicated to the historic mess-ups that dictated the flow of history from Troy to Athens to Little Big Horn to Leningrad to the Tet Offensive.
The military is not alone in its study of disasters, catastrophes, mistakes and general unspecified malfeasance.
From Edsel cars to Beta tapes, the business world is awash in either bad ideas or great ideas discounted and ignored.
Human fumbling seems to be everywhere.
In the past year or so, or even in the past few months, we have seen monumental failures of organization that could have been easily prevented or at least mitigated to a large degree.
Whether it is COVID, the vaccine roll-out, the insurrection in our nation’s capital on January 6th or the widespread multi-billion-dollar collapse of the Texas power grid due to colder-than-expected weather, these lethal, destructive and expensive catastrophes could have been alleviated or possibly even prevented with just a little bit of advanced planning.
The basic boy scout motto of “Be prepared” was somehow forgotten – or maybe we don’t have enough boy scouts working in public service.
Either way, we could use a lot more planning ahead.
In the old days, that’s what leaders did – they envisioned and articulated a way forward.
They showed us, and usually led the way.
One business book I read recently emphasized that the best leader will seek -and listen to – advice that “disconfirms” his or her decision.
The best leader, this book advocated, was the one who got rid of any “yes-men” (those who agree with the boss no matter what they say – after all, what could anyone learn from them?) and gave special, respectful attention to those who had a different, even counter opinion.
Think of anything you believe in or care about, from favorite fast-food to car to football team to political or religious belief; what would it take to change your mind?
If you say that nothing would change your mind, you are part of the problem.
What if you grew up in another region? Would you have the same sports, food or even political preferences you currently hold?
Most of us act and believe that what we believe and care about right now are what everyone should believe and care about.
But do any of us have the priorities we had ten, or even five years ago?
A common bumper-sticker is “I was a (fill-in-the-blank) fan before it was cool”.
It doesn’t matter what kind of fan, from the Mets to the Bears to the Mariners to Nickelback, Queen or Phish, the word “cool” just means popular and acceptable – which mostly means predictable, if not boring.
I read and listen to, and even eat things that make my friends roll their eyes in horror – but a year or two later, they too enjoy them.
But by the time they think those things are “cool”, I’m getting tired of them.
So, in other words, I am almost never “cool”.
That’s OK with me.
There’s an old saying that there’s three kinds of people; first, those who are prepared for almost anything and have a two-weeks supply of just about everything from toilet paper to non-perishable food. Second, those that have a day or two of most basic supplies and, third, those who are in a near constant state of panic as they rush to buy whatever they (and sometimes everyone else) most need.
The last group can’t even begin to imagine that the first group exists.
I think it’s obvious which group you want to have on your friend list.
And equally obvious which group you can expect will give you an emergency call or visit whenever a crisis hits.
The goal for any business or agency, or even country, is to get as many people as possible in the first, or at minimum the second group, and as few as possible in the third group.
Unfortunately, COVID has driven many of us into the third group from the other two.
Once our economy stabilizes, we should prioritize preparation for everything from pandemics to earthquakes to the much-dreaded zombie apocalypse.
If COVID taught us nothing else, we learned that those basic things, those things we take for granted, from toilet paper to electricity make all the difference.
As my military friend emphasized, no amount of training or preparation will be regretted.
A little preparation might be your best investment.
You might not need that extra package of toilet paper, but your neighbor might.
And don’t be one of those people forced to buy toilet paper for ten dollars a roll!