Shortcuts = Disasters

I have this book The Logic of Failure by Dietrich Dörner. Amazing – there is logic to making really stupid decisions. I bought the book because I was trying to make sense of the tragedy that is, Projects Gone Off the Rails.

Since I seem to be on the subject of illustrating the disaster of Deviations and Justings aka Tiny Daily Decisions, I’ll talk about a little something that went completely out of control.

Never had one? Then you aren’t in advertising. Or ever worked. Anywhere.

One word: Chernobyl.

I could have used a million others (there are so many from which to choose), but this is so graphic – and long lasting – like millions of years, that it begs comparison to your Tiny Daily Decisions and their lasting effect.

In the book, the author states, “[t]he tendency to ‘oversteer’ is a characteristic in human interaction with dynamic systems…We regulate the situation and not the process.”1

In a nutshell – or a sarcophagus – a series of decisions to override tested and proven systems (official procedure), in the name of haste (a holiday weekend ahead), caused that irreversible chain reaction – and meltdown. And spewing a radioactive cloud, which wasn't reported until some heads-up folks in Sweden detected it. A couple days later, denial was impossible (they tried – it’s under control) and the explosion was news.

How does a disaster of this magnitude beg comparison to your Tiny Daily Decisions in advertising? Well, because folks in advertising think that every error (or little change the client wants) deserves Level-One Trauma Status and the patient is going to die if we don’t act NOW. Therefore, rather than taking a step back and determining how much of a disaster you have on your hands, you dive in and keep trying to regulate the situation.

If you have a process in place (you do don’t you?), you actually have a set of steps to prevent oversteering – or at least be able to recognize the effect of what you are about to do.

Or, if some numskull decided to deviate, you can actually identify that crafty departure before it’s Too Late.

The problem, like at Chernobyl, is that when things go horribly wrong and you ignore process, every individual who touches that job keeps oversteering.

Voilà! You have blown the budget, delivered it late, and it is unrecognizable from the original plan. Worse, you have no idea when or where it started heading to the path of ruin, much less who initiated it.

But you delivered the job. The client isn’t really happy. And you send a bill – for the original estimate.

Yep, I keep harping on it, but this will keep you from making (too many) stupid, expensive decisions – put a process in place and use it. Think about the action you are about to take, document it so everyone is on the same page, and then make sure it’s covered in the budget.

You start pushing that crap through without a second thought and someone will have a meltdown. And the folks in Sweden will let me know.

If you don’t know how to get process in place, call me. If you don’t want to damage fragile egos with oh-so-cumbersome procedure, call me anyway. Everything will be okay.

1 pp. 30 The Logic of Failure