The Importance of Exercise (and rhinos)
Exercise. With a few annoyingly fit and perky exceptions, we all hate to do it. Even when it comes to business exercises, where we can avoid the serious danger of getting all sweaty and tired, we still avoid it… generally for reasons comparable to the physical: foolishness, arrogance and wasting time.
In business, time is money. We focus on reducing waste and maximizing profit. When times are tough, we avoid future-focused activities in preference for those that we are fairly certain would benefit us right now… even when future gains would likely be much larger. So, even when we know that exercise would help us, we avoid it because there are other things that need doing.
Then there’s the other side. For a business exercise to be useful, we must learn from it. To learn from it, we must encounter something new. This is socially dangerous as it places us in a situation where, to positively respond to the scenario, we risk being viewed negatively by those around us… so there is resistance to trying new things.
Why risk social censure and waste time when you know what you’d do in a bad situation anyway? After all, we’re smart people. We think about things and we know our environment, right? If a problem happened, we’d just deal with it. Our people would have to work overtime, but we’d get the job done… right?
Well, let’s find out. Suppose you work in a zoo. Suppose one of the risks you face is that of an animal escaping. Your job is to figure out how to deal with the event and get the animal back. How would you do it? Take a couple of minutes and think what you’d do. I’ll wait.
Now, watch this video.
Tell me. In your mental model, which animal escaped? Was it dangerous? Was it hard to recapture? Did you think about what would happen if one or more of your people were injured during the escape? What about people at the zoo? Did you think of children, of adults, of any disabled people and how they might escape? Did you think about the potential damage that an animal could cause to the infrastructure both inside and outside of the zoo? What about the possibility that the animal could survive after escaping and create a breeding population of dangerous animals in the city? Did you plan include alerting the news media and trying to control the story?
Even an exercise can show you things that you might not think of on your own. By running through live exercises, you can encounter serious problems in a safe way. You can discover which events need prevention and which ones would require a pre-planned reaction. If your organization’s culture focuses on predictable work, you might find a resistance to working extra hours to make up for what is perceived for someone else’s problem. If your organization is on the other side of the continuum and tends towards interrupt-driven tasks, you may find that your people are closer to exhaustion than you think, and a true disaster could push them over the edge.