February 15, 2010 – The passing of 2009 into the history books was supposed to be a relief. Remember the holiday cards last December with hand written notes hoping for “a happier New Year” and promising “better days ahead”? Well, now thanks to everything from the Christmas bomber to political stalemate, to last week’s record-breaking “Snowmageddon” in Washington DC, we’re still waiting for that “Happy New Year!” (Any time now…)
Everyone keeps asking: When will we get back to normal? And when will we be in control again?
The truth is that we are never truly “in control” – whether it’s the inconvenient line at the pharmacy or the occasional flat tire, to the truly life changing events that affect us and the ones we love. I am a firm believer that faith is part of the answer. But I am also a believer in the old proverb, attributed to Arab culture, “trust in Allah, tether your camel.” What we can do is plan for the unexpected, as well as the routine.
Last year I had the good fortune to chat with Pasquale Scaturro, geologist and professional explorer who has led three expeditions to Mount Everest, including one in which Erik Weihenmayer became the first blind climber to reach the summit. (In a small world story, J Street hired Erik some time ago to represent a local client.) Pasquale has also spearheaded multiple descents of first-class rivers, including the only descent of the Nile from its source to the Mediterranean Sea, a distance of 3,260 miles. If you’ve seen Pasquale on his History Channel reality show (Expedition Africa) you’ve seen that he is a tough, gruff, and meticulous planner.
Pasquale revealed a little known secret to his planning: he always plans for failure. He always anticipates the “what if.” In taking Erik Weihenmayer to the summit of Everest, Pasquale scaled the mountain 3 times in advance, with a separate crew each time going beyond the highest base camp. On each of these planning trips Pasquale buried a cache of extra oxygen bottles, tents, food and sleeping bags. The last cache was buried a few feet from the top.
As the leader of an expedition with a blind climber, Pasquale knew the dangers. In the past, leaders have had to leave behind able-bodied climbers who are too exhausted or disoriented to continue. Those climbers took the risk on themselves. But Erik was different. On this trip – with a climber who must be guided carefully every step – the leader must stay with the climber. If Erik did not come down, then neither would Pasquale.
As Pasquale says, “In mountain climbing, going up is optional. Coming down is not optional.”
With Pasquale’s thorough preparations, Erik successfully made the summit of Everest and became not only a hero in his own right, but made heroes of his entire sponsoring team, the National Federation of the Blind. Our National Hero of 2009, Captain Sully Sullenberger, spent 29 years planning for one 6-minute flight into the Hudson river and into the history books.
For every lucky entrepreneur and accidental success, there are a dozen more who succeed because of their planning, flexibility and constant adjusting to the market around them. Local entrepreneur Ted Leonsis is famous for his “bucket list.” John Lee of Lee Technologies, Steven and Mitchell Rales of Danaher Corporation, and Bahman Atefi of Alion Science and Technology are all regarded as strategic thinkers planning for the long term.
For more than 30 years I have been writing business plans, corporate strategies and marketing campaigns. Planning for the future is both a science and an art – the results are not always what we predict. Yes, holding your breath and falling into a successful business is always possible. Many do. But thinking through all of the potential outcomes, good and bad, is indeed a smarter and more winning business strategy.
So plan to fail – It just might help you succeed. And keep the snow shovel handy. Winter isn’t quite over yet.
J Street Consulting
CEO & Founding Partner