Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Sense of Urgency

I ran my first half-marathon this past weekend. It was a trail run, and a little muddy, so maybe a little more challenging than a regular road-race half-marathon...but I might only be telling myself that because my performance was [shame-facedly] pathetic. I finished. That's about as far as I'm willing to go with "bragging" about how I did.

Over the course of the 13.1 miles, though, I did think about a lot of stuff. What was for lunch (turned out to be a gatorade, bag of potato chips and a Mounds candy bar, post race). Whether, at mile 7.5 going steeply down hill, it was the seven years on ships, four of them on patrol boats, that had destroyed my knees to the point that I had to step to the side of the trail, bend forward and want to cry because going down hurt so freaking bad. Or was it just bad knees? Or complete lack of training (I'm going to use this excuse, because it's the only one I can control in the future)? And why the *hell* it felt like someone was bashing my calves with a baseball bat to make them cramp up and spasm so much? Guess I should have had that gatorade pre-race instead of post-race. It was about at that point that I started walking.

But I also thought about how my sense of urgency for things has changed since I left the operational fleet. I actually find myself asking the question, is anybody gonna *die* if I don't turn in this [report,  white paper, digest, panel, Q response, talking points] within the next 10 minutes like I'm supposed to? If the answer is "no," I absolutely will still try to get it in on time, but will take the extra 15 minutes I might need to make sure it is a worthy product. Because, underway, the "is someone gonna die?" question is completely legitimate. Sometimes, underway, any action is better than no action. If no action is taken, ships could collide, helicopters could run out of gas while still a long ways off from the closest flight deck, lines could part with such force as to break bones, and lookouts could miss spotting that survivor treading water with only their melon of a head sticking out to be seen. Sometimes the action I've taken might not have been exactly the right thing to do, but it was far better than doing nothing.

One of my favorite quotes is the bastardization of Voltaire's original, "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Exactly! Sometimes, good enough is just that!

And I also thought about how tactical decisions are different than strategic decisions (I swear, I'm not making this up...this really is what I thought about while I was running. It was a long race. At least for me.). Tactical decisions are finite...or maybe better said, there is a definable span to their execution.
They are bound-able. They have a beginning and an end. Go-fast chases are over when the bad guys are caught; hopefully, search and rescue cases are over when the PIW is found, or they're over when ACTSUS is granted; boat detail is over when the boat is recovered, griped down and all gear stowed.

Strategic decisions are...different (I shared my brilliant insight with the Rocket Scientist, not realizing at the time that he teaches strategic planning in war-gaming scenarios when he's stateside. His response, "of course it is."). But despite the recognition that strategic decision-making is different than tactical decision-making, I'm still stuck with the inclination to understand how the difference affects my ability, as well as a collective's ability, to make, defend, execute, message, recover from and generally live with each type.

So strategic decisions are harder because there typically isn't a need to make them *RIGHT NOW!* like with tactical decisions. I've been thinking for months that I need to figure out how to cool my house this summer because I don't have central a/c, don't like window units, and am actually going to be in Maryland for the heat and humidity this year. For *months!* I've been thinking about this. Finally, last week, I started doing some market research, learned about high-velocity and mini-split systems, looked up some companies...all the strategic stuff related to solving my house's cooling problem. Once the process got tactical, things got easier. A list of companies, phone numbers to call, estimates to schedule. Much more clearly defined and tangible. And you know what I found out today when the first estimator came out to the house...because of my lame ass procrastination to make a decision, the earliest this company can do the install is six to eight weeks...the middle to end of JULY!! Um, silly Girl...summer is well on its way to being half over by then.

Of course, I'll still go ahead and have the system installed as soon as the company can do it...and call it strategic planning for next summer. That's called "messaging" in my world of work.

Another thing about strategic decisions -- they typically require major process evaluation and potential change. Long-range planning without looking at the underlying process is just an extended tactical view. Good strategy involves thorough understanding of tactics: how things are done, why they're done that way and an assessment of whether there is a better way to do them. I called my sister today, about mid-day. Nothing bad was happening (well, except maybe my attitude). But nothing good was going on either. I was just feeling Put Upon. Weight of the world on my shoulders kind of thing...juggling multiple seven-figure issues, schedule crunches, trying to be in two--hell, four places at once, doing six things at a time. Had to leave work early (or at least early for this office...still put in an eight-hour day) to get home to meet the a/c estimator. Lower priority events fell off the plate.

This really is all relevant: how things are done  -- I push myself, try to do too much at times, take on more than I really should; why they're done that way -- it's just my nature, I guess, don't know what the hell I'm trying to prove; a better way to do them -- quit making lists of all the crap I feel like I need to do...hire someone else to clean the house. And paint the house. And tile the floors. And install the a/c. In other words, prioritize better. Recognize, accept and move on from the fact that I can't do it all *and* I don't have to.

And this really is all relevant to work. Like critically, desperately relevant. Budget cuts don't ease the difficulty of strategic decisions. Less money means strategic decisions are so much more important (critically), but ridiculously (desperately) more difficult to actually make.

Welcome to my world. At least I'm not sore from the race anymore.

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