For the last week I have been stuck in France due to a travel calamity that descended upon Europe out of the air from a distant volcano in Iceland. While the first phrase to come to our conversations here in France was “bomb Iceland”, this whole experience has been fodder for reflection.
What can we learn from this volcano?
Lesson 1: A strong reminder to anticipate problems.
Some time ago this volcano started to belch and come back to life after many years of dormancy. Why didn’t this trigger visible and concrete concerns from the airlines going back that far? After all, they’ve lost $2 billion in the last week and some are literally shutting their doors. Planning for the unexpected may have helped some weather this mess better. And who should have planned for this situation? Each and every airline and every airport. After all, they’ve been through a travel mess like this in recent times (9/11). Imagining every possible threat is part of the process of running a business, and a big threat to airlines in general I would say is the decision making of the airspace authority. What are all of the variables that could cause the airspace to be closed? Weather, crashes, terrorism, and atmospheric disturbances (i.e. erupting volcano upstream plus flight disruptions documented in many other volcano-ish situations). In the US, disruptions from huge blizzards are factored in to every airline business operation in the country.
On my shoulders as a traveler, and in life, I have the same responsibilities in risk assessment and worst-case scenario planning. I left my son with the grandparents in Chicago during my trip which now is an extra eight days (hopefully no more). We left our family with all sorts of worst-case scenario planning and documentation and also knew that they would be able to keep him safe and sound if our flight was delayed (although we did not expect a delay to be measured in days), so in this way I tried to anticipate as much as possible.
What else can we learn from this volcano?
Lesson 2: Use imagination and experience to better anticipate problems.
Imagination is an important part of doing anything in the world. This is not about being guided by paranoia or fear built upon anecdotal evidence, but using tacit knowledge to make decisions that will help avoid calamity. This tacit knowledge is something that describes knowing things that you do not know in detail but are things you know due to having experience in positive and negative outcomes in the past to better guide decision making to keep business as sound as possible. In other words, predicting problems comes from experience, and these airlines are not new to experiencing problems and setbacks, and they should have been ready. If I had personally anticipated a complete shutdown, I would not have traveled far from home, putting lots of extra stress on my family and my employer (and me). But now I have this experience as a valuable tool for me in the future.
Lesson 3: Take action.
Taking swift action to override those who have shut the system down seemed to be helpful. A few brave airlines basically proved the decision maker’s arguments for safety concerns were perhaps a bit much. When things go awry in life and in the world, nobody else will advocate for you as strong as you can advocate for yourself, and this seems to have helped turn the tide on the airspace authority. Take control of your problems.
Lesson 4: Make a list of the volcanoes in your business and in life.
What other volcanoes are out there?
Game development projects.
Visual effects projects.
And just about any human activity in personal life and in business.
My overall summary is, for me, look for the volcanoes in all areas in my life. Anticipate through imagination and review of experience. Take action. It won’t all prevent mistakes or errors or accidents, but it will sure keep you much safer from the ash when it comes raining down.
Recently, scientists have discovered, quite to the contrary of their initial assumptions, that 80% of the area devastated by Mt. Saint Helens in 1980 now hosts plant life (and some animals and insects). My point is that in that devastation, people paid attention to it and have studied it, and it gave the world a whole new way to monitor and detect opportunities for potent eruptions elsewhere. We learned a heck of a lot from that volcano. The volcano in Iceland will do the same of course. How in the world then can we ignore these learning experiences?
Greed and blind hope come to mind. We want to go to Europe on an adventure of a lifetime. We want to “beat the market” with our creation of bizarre “financial instruments” and automated trading systems. We want to keep the airlines running status quo because there’s “no way” airspace can shut down for a week in Europe. We want to ignore problems in business because we believe in hope because the “projected” P&L “feels” a lot better than where it is truly headed.
Well, I wanted to go to Europe, and I suppose some part of me ignored the news out of Iceland. Gotta keep the blinders off so I’ll be more aware of potential ash forecasts in the future.