A few weeks ago I drove down to our weekend place in Austria with my brother-in-law to do some renovation work.
Arriving at around 7.15 on a Friday evening, we flipped the switch in the fuse cabinet to turn the power on. Nothing. Flipped a load of other switches. Still nothing. We called the power company’s outage hotline to be told that the house had been disconnected.
Although we had already been in touch with them to register as the new owners of the house, the inevitable bureaucracy lag meant the computer had flagged us for disconnection. And because we were already outside of office hours and this was a disconnection and not an outage, the “service” agent couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help.
To make matters worse, as it was a long weekend with a public holiday, it was unlikely we could get reconnected for at least a week.
Given that we had been planning to cut floorboards with power tools, paint walls with good lighting and clean up with a vacuum cleaner, we had a problem.
After considering giving up and driving back to Munich, we decided, “Hell no!” and devised a simple back up plan:
1) Cut the floorboards by hand.
2) Ensure we started early enough that we could complete the painting before sundown.
3) Clean up as best we could and vacuum the place next time we came.
We got lucky in that a couple of workmen doing some carpentry for a neighboring house let us connect to their power for 30 minutes. That allowed us to do the bulk of the board cutting quickly and painlessly, so that we could start painting before noon.
Dry, sunny weather also meant that we were able to move all the furniture outside and paint effectively.
By Sunday morning we had achieved everything we wanted to with no electricity or hot water. We also decided it would probably be a good idea to invest in a back-up generator.
On the drive back with my consulting hat on, I reflected on the process we had gone through and how similar it was to dealing with nasty surprises in business:
· Unexpected issue (no power)
· Try emergency solution (Calling the power company to request reconnection)
· Create a new plan (Cut boards by hand, start earlier to ensure painting is finished before sundown)
· Take advantage of good fortune (Borrowing power and good weather)
· Work as best you can (successful repair of floor and completion of painting)
· Take action to ensure no repetition (Buy a backup generator)
I see way too many businesses that a) are unprepared when things go wrong, or b) abort an activity because the circumstances aren’t “perfect”.
The reality is that there is rarely a perfect time to do anything. Most of the time you will lose more by waiting or delaying to try and get a perfect result, than you will by creating a backup plan, going ahead and accepting a result that is good enough.
Think about that the next time the lights go out unexpectedly – literally or metaphorically.