Laurence Gonzales in Deep Survival writes about “Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why”. There are some clear lessons in the study of physical survival in the wilderness.
We all operate in failure mode… all the time. All. The. Time. Most failures are small ones, a dropped bit of food, a spilled drink, extra traffic, a burned-out light, the glitches we dismiss as normal.
These system failures are the outgrowth of the tightly coupled complex nature of our lives — self-organizing complexity of astonishing proportion.
These small failures are normal, and unfortunately, so are large failures. The small things are like the temblors in an earthquake zone, the quiet harbingers of the larger collapses that must eventually happen. Large accidents or failures, while rare, are normal too. Efforts to prevent them always fail.
Failure processes happen very fast and can’t be turned off. Recovery from the initial disturbance is not possible; it will spread quickly and irretrievably for at least some time. These interactions were not designed into the system by anybody.
Doing bold things is not about engineering risk to zero. Failures happen, and if we restrict ourselves to where they can’t… we’re not going to do anything very interesting.
We’ll all have good idea of how our system behaves with it’s more frequent smaller failures. But we rarely understand how much energy is in the system… and how quickly things will go critical.
If we can’t “engineer” it out, and we can’t predict anything beyond that a failure will happen, what do we do? We trust, we risk, we embrace failure when it occurs and try to understand how it fits into the system, and like the walkers on the wire, we accept that at some point, everything may suddenly and irrevocably change. We also join and build teams of people, which are far more resilient than an individual. And from a business sense, can produce far more consistent results, with higher quality, and greater speed. And do bold things.