3 min read
I hike a lot, mostly in the mountains. Fog can roll in unexpectedly, very quickly, and completely blind you. It happened to me today.
I left my home in bright sunshine. Actually, it was early, but it looked like bright sunshine was on its way. Very few clouds. I hiked up a mountain through a thick wood I didn’t know. That was the easy part. It was just straight up.
When I got to the top I was almost instantly engulfed by fog. I had two options:
1. take the same path down or
2. walk across a set of connected plains and another path down.
Naturally, my original plan did not involve taking the same path down. I know this area well, and I thought I could find my way across the plains, despite the fog.
I set out in the “right” direction and found myself going down a hill into a steep valley I didn’t recognize. I retraced my steps and set off in a slightly “righter” direction, or so I thought. Within 15 minutes I ran into a long cow fence I didn’t recognize. At that point I knew I was lost.
Despite being lost, I had a plan, and it was clearly time to execute it.
When I was younger, I never had a plan. I frequently got myself into less-than-sensible situations. Growing out of recklessness never happened. Even after a few kids my behavior didn’t change. Some day it was bound to end badly.
The thing is, the behavior wasn’t the problem. We make calculated risks all the time. The problem was my lack of rigorous what-if thinking before taking the risk.
This changed a few years ago, and it served me well today.
My father-in-law is an avid surf-skier, and he’s taught me the basics. After spending months just learning to stay on the ski, I began creeping out into the ocean, farther and farther. What could go wrong?
I should mention that my father-in-law is ex-Navy, so what-ifs are part of his DNA. When we’d get out a ways he’d often stop and ask me questions like: “If you lost your paddle, could you swim back from here?”, “If the wind picks up, can you paddle back?”, “If a shark takes your rudder, do you have a plan?”
The answer to that last question was always “no” of course.
Today, when I found myself surrounded by fog, I knew it was a somewhat dangerous situation. My neighbor recently saved someone who got lost up there and broke his leg. Dumb luck he’s alive today. With that story in mind, I worked through my what-ifs.
Each time I set out I made sure I could get back to where I started. Luckily the sun was strong enough that one part of the fog was brighter than the rest. I used that to keep my bearings, along with snow patches and rock formations. And each time I set out, I stopped when I wasn’t sure I’d find my way back if I went any further.
After two attempts at navigating the plain in near complete blindness, I decided it was time for the backup plan. I went back down through the woods to get out of the fog and eventually followed the mountain to a known spot. This took much longer than I expected, but the whole time I knew I was safe.
After three hours, I was home.
If you’re a regular reader you know that I like to draw parallels between my everyday life experiences and my work building Toucan. A few weeks ago I wrote about how customer acquisition is a lot like building and managing a fire, a rather heavy-handed analogy. 😂
Today I’m not going to bother.
What-if-ing an unpredictable situation is obviously a smart thing to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s a military attack, a strategic corporate bet, or a walk in the woods. It’s difficult believing it’s worth the time, but I’m now convinced it is. It’s taken me a looooong time to learn this lesson. Today I’m happy I did.
Toucan co-founder. Lover of startups and travel.
Current status: One out of two ain't bad.
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