This week's quote is one of many from British author Arthur C. Clarke. Human beings do so love their plans. We become so wed to them that we often don't think about the "What ifs" that could occur and thwart those very same plans. How could anyone be so malicious as to cause a failure in our efforts? Sadly, it isn't always a someone who throws the monkey wrench. Often it can be something well beyond our control, as I re-learned last week.
Last week was the week of the total eclipse across most of the center of the United States. It was an exciting day with lots of planning. We had friends staying at our house in Nashville and were settling in for lunch and the eclipse. It was amazing to watch the moon slowly move across the sun. My wife was prepared weeks in advance, with the glasses and even a filter for her camera.
Just as the moon was within minutes of reaching total eclipse a very large cloud slid between our view and the eclipse. It moved quickly, but once it obscured our view, something interesting happened. It started to act like there were counter-winds pushing back against it. The edges started to curl back on itself and the cloud stopped moving for what felt like an eternity. We could hear our neighbors shouting and howling in disappointment. The world darkened around us as totality occurred, bats came out thinking it was dusk, cicadas and crickets started their songs, and the mosquitos appeared to feast on the poor slubs who attempted to witness the total eclipse but were foiled by nature.
As totality passed and the world lightened, the cloud started to move again, and we were able to watch the eclipse recede, but we had missed the opportunity to experience totality in all its glory.
The picture for this week is from that day. If you look closely you can see the sliver of the sun as the moon passed in front, just as the cloud closed in. Weeks of planning and excitement ruthlessly revised by Nature.
In life, the best-laid plans are often foiled by variables that you cannot control. The true test of leadership isn't when everything goes according to plan, but instead when a variable causes your best-laid plans to fail. When leading projects, we very often create Risk Registers with trigger points and contingency plans for when things may happen. I wrote a series about it previously in the blog (starting here). The catch is that you can rarely predict everything. We had a plan if the radar showed rain or clouds, but the weather report showed clear skies. We were foiled by a stray cloud not visible on the radar, and that only became a possible problem 10 minutes before totality and a definite problem about 1 minute before. We didn't plan for a different local location to try to outrun the cloud, and with the shortened timeline, I'm not sure we would have "broken camp" to get there even if we did have a plan. We were comfortable, cameras were set-up, and we didn't know if other locations would be completely packed.
You make due with what you can, adjust the plan, and try to make the best of the situations you find yourself in. As a leader, are you planning for the "What ifs?" for your team? Are you spending the time to plan out alternatives and identify risks? Nature, fate, the universe can be a fickle thing. Best to be prepared!