When Disaster Strikes

A Prussian Field Marshal, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder is the first person credited with saying that no plan survives contact with the enemy.  It applies in war.  It applies in business.  I saw it applied firsthand at a recent trade show and personally, the next day.

Planning is important in war and business.  Those who act without planning often fail.  Yet those who cannot act and adjust after plans go awry, are almost certain to fail.

Molke was given credit for the phrase by British historian, Correlli Barnett.  In his 1961 book, “The Desert Generals,” Barnett wrote that “Rommel took Moltke’s view that ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy.’  If his plan got him into battle, it was enough.  After that, Rommel would fight by ear and eye and tactical sense, like a duelist.”

This came to life a couple of weeks ago at the Southeast Michigan Air Conditioning Contractors Association (SEMIACCA) Trade Show.  I had one of the first speaking slots at SEMIACCA, so we arrived a good 45 minutes before the conference part of the show began.  When we arrived, we were greeted by chaos.

The event center hosted a serious party the night before.  The morning clean-up and set-up crew failed to show.  Trash littered the floors.  The tables and chairs for the conference set-up were out, but neatly stacked.

Members of SEMIACCA who arrived early were scrambling to get tables and chairs in place.  They were joined by exhibitors and speakers who had arrived early.  People were draping cloths across the seminar tables.

The people who arrived early had been promised breakfast in every room.  No one had showed up to prepare it.  Worse, at least from my jet-lagged perspective, there was no coffee.

Colleen Keyworth from Online Access was in charge.  Anyone who knows Colleen knows that even if she was not formally in charge, she would have taken charge.  She did it with a smile and good humor that I found rather miraculous under the circumstances.  She seemed resigned to the fact that she could only control what she could control.  She did her best with what she had.

Colleen was following Rommel’s example.  She was recruiting people to help.  As a testament to the character of the people in the service trades, no one said it wasn’t his or her job.  Everyone pitched in.

I focused on getting the AV set-up for my presentation, the screen placed, and the chairs and tables in order.  In the room where I was speaking, a large, raised dais extended into the center of the room.  It looked like the spot where a band had played the night before.  We simply placed the tables and chairs around it.

Meanwhile, someone made a donut and bagel run in lieu of breakfast.  Mercifully, someone from the event center had arrived and managed to produce coffee.

The first session started.  We made do and it all turned out okay.  The people who arrived after the first session had no idea a disaster was averted.

Disasters are averted every day in business.  While it is preferable to avoid them, it is not always possible.  Stuff happens.  When it does, it is the response that matters.  When you face a disaster, can you act “by ear and eye and tactical sense, like a duelist,” like Rommel?  I got my own chance the next morning.

My arriving flight landed after midnight before the event.  When I got to the hotel, I stayed up adjusting my presentation to update the statistics used.  Because tax examples were involved, I had to make adjustments for Michigan’s state taxes.  As a result, I didn’t get a lot of sleep.  Since speaking involves an adrenalin kick, I was fine when presenting.  The price gets paid afterwards.  The trade show ended at 8:00 p.m. and a group dinner followed.  When I got to the hotel, I was wiped.

I checked email, then used the same charger for my laptop to charge my phone.  I remember setting the closed, black laptop on a navy-blue chair next to the bed.  If you’re thinking, uh oh, you’re on track.

The next morning the alarm went off at 5:00 a.m.  The light home departed at 7:30 a.m.  Sleep deprived, I stumbled through the morning routine, packed, and headed off to the airport.  When I boarded the plane, I pulled out a book, computer charger, and… no laptop.

Oh… crap.  Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap!  I had left the black laptop on the navy-blue chair and hadn’t noticed the missing weight in my backpack because of all of the books I carry.

Awesome.  Can you spell idiot?  How about disaster?

My initial thought was to get home and get the hotel to ship the laptop.  The better thought was to go get it.  Sure, there was a risk of getting stuck in Detroit or being assigned to a middle seat between two sweating 400-pound men.  I rationalized that the pain to get another flight was less than the pain of recovering the laptop.  As I thought about it, the pain of renting a car and driving to Dallas was less than the pain of recovering the laptop.  So, I got off the plane.

Fortunate smiled on me.  I was able to rebook in a similar seat on the 1:30 p.m. flight.

Now I had to get to the hotel.  It was the Delta, a Marriott property.  I asked a Marriott shuttle driver if he dropped off there.  He said to look for a white and blue van.  Voila, a white and blue van was parked next to a sign that read, Westin and Delta.  I hopped on, told the driver I wanted to get off at the Delta.  He dropped me off at Delta Airlines.  Oops.

At the shuttle pick-up location near Delta Airlines, I kept waiting for a van from the Delta Hotel.  After 15 eternally loooooong minutes, no van.  But there was one for the hotel next door to it, so I took it.  When I finally got to the hotel, I still had my room keycard.  It worked.  Inside the room was my laptop.  And… there was the bed.  With a flight boarding five hours later, a nap beckoned.

It’s said we should expect the unexpected.  Okay, but it’s hard to expect what you cannot expect.  The best you can do is can prepare yourself to adjust if something unexpected comes up.  Then, don’t be surprised when something does come up.

No plan survives contact with the enemy… marketplace… competition… weather… circumstances… your own stupidity.  Like Rommel, make adjustments with your eyes, with your ears, with your tactical sense.  Be like a duelist.  Be like a Comanche.

© 2022 Comanche Marketing

They arose from the northern plains and migrated south.  They were masters of the horse.  And they were masters of war.  As they swept down from the north, none could stand before them.  They drove the Apaches out of Texas.  They beat back the Spanish.  They carved a territory across the plains where they were the undisputed rulers.  The Utes called them “the ones who fight me all of the time.”  The Utes called them Comanches.

 The Comanche Warrior is one who fought all the time.  The Comanche Marketer is one who markets all the time.

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