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don’t do it the first time for real

May 17, 2011

I was at a seminar recently that examined how organisations responded to the risks that materialised as a result of the recent floods in Brisbane. It concluded with a slide headed “Take home messages.” Along with Take the time now to review what worked and what didn’t and Do not fail to plan was this statement:

Don’t do it the first time for real!

Many organisations have plans in place to deal with emergency situations, natural disasters and other types of business interruptions. Not so many organisation actually practice their plans. Apparently only a handful then think outside the parameters of the plans as they are written to wonder “What if …?” or ask someone outside the organisation to assess their performance, provide feedback and facilitate reflection.

Practice is important because when you are actually in it, doing it under pressure, you get to see first hand the quality of the decisions you make. You can see how you and other people on your team behave under pressure and find out what you will actually do when there are only two of you left and there are seven things that need to be done – now!

Reflecting on how you behaved after the event, wondering “What if…?” and inviting feedback helps you find out what is really important.

That kind of experience gives you the gift of seeing into the future and being able to come back and do things differently.

I think Ric Elias would agree. You probably don’t know Ric but  you might have heard about Flight 1549, the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York in January 2009? Ric had a seat in the front row. His five-minute TED talk 3 things I learned while my plane crashed is a compelling take on the same theme. Your life can change in an instant.

That kind of experience gives you the gift of seeing into the future and being able to come back and do things differently.

I think that is one of the opportunities that The Samurai Game offers to people – minus the plane crash of course! It gives you the opportunity to practice, of doing it under pressure. Then you get the chance to reflect with others who have shared the experience with you. What the majority of people are surprised to discover is that they have completely different perceptions of what actually happened.

If you are a leader in an organisation you want your people practicing their ethical decision-making before they have to do it for real. Case studies, like the documents that set out your emergency plan, are important but they don’t give you the benefit that comes with actual practice. Sharing “what I would do in that situation” is one thing, discussing and reflecting on”what I did in that situation” is another thing altogether.

If you are coaching people to improve their communication or leadership style it is often useful to say “not everyone sees the situation the same way that you do”. It is a much more powerful learning to experience the subjective nature of our shared reality first hand.

That kind of experience gives you the gift of seeing into the future and being able to come back and do things differently.

Whatever it is – practice it. Emergency response plans, ethical decision-making, data recovery from back-ups or even CPR. Practice. Today.

You don’t want to do any of them the first time for real.


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