Snuggled in Fry’s Harbor in the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara in our chartered 42’ Catalina, I set my cool new handheld GPS anchor alarm. The sailboat had bow and stern anchors out, sheltering in a small anchorage, but surrounded by a pristine, spectacular and largely untouched natural setting. One other boat anchored nearby made me a little nervous, but I knew my GPS wouldn’t let me down. I dialed in an anchor alarm setting with a 50’ diameter on the GPS and curled up to listen to the sea lions chattering back and forth in the dusk. An hour later an annoying buzzing made me sit up, banging my head on the overhead deck above me. The boat was outside the diameter and I knew that next, we were going to die. But poking my head through the forward hatch, a quick look-around showed we were safe.
Three hours and three alarms later, it was my wife who was annoyed. So I cleverly, though half asleep, fixed the problem by extending the diameter to 75 feet. I changed the context of my decision point and my problem went away. We were fine until morning when it dawned on me (literally) that I might have misjudged the scope of the anchor chain, and that we really might have been dragging. My first indication would be the noise and violence of the hull breaking up on the nearby rocks as the salt water poured in, sealing our watery grave. It probably wouldn’t have been that bad, but the imagination does wonderful things sometimes.
It later occurred to me that we often make business decisions somewhat like this. Every decision has a context. The context may involve markets, competition, resources, management capacity, staff competence, the economy, share prices and so on. They provide a metaphorical anchorage, complete with rocks, shoals and open water. If we can simply redefine the context, by resetting the decision anchor alarm to a slightly larger diameter, the problem goes away. Just like mine did. But this may not be the best action to take in a reality-based community. Changing the context doesn’t make the rocks go away. If the anchor is actually dragging you have a problem, whether you redefine the context or not.
Redefining the context to remove the problem is at least risky and may be dangerous. PR departments and CEOs use spin to accomplish this. Spin is really just redefining the problem to make the issue disappear. Impression management is a nicer word but tends in the same direction. Peter Drucker said, “you cannot manage a crisis – you can only survive it.” Decisions and crisis go hand in hand.
If danger really exists should we not make the anchor alarm diameter smaller? That seems more cautious, though we may not get much sleep as the alarm sounds every thirty minutes until the dawn breaks.
Have you ever made a management decision by redefining the context until the implications faded into the twilight? Or blamed your problem on a faulty or uncalibrated GPS, as the rocks drew near?
Remember… denial is not a river in Egypt.