Last week, I had the privilege to participate in the Oxfam 100km Trailwalker 2012, a gruelling global fundraising event against poverty and injustice. It was a great event, and I could not let this opportunity pass without drawing some business ‘lessons learnt’. I will elaborate on each of these in future blogs:
The statistics are that about half of the 4-member Oxfam teams would have at least one team member retiring before the finish. The 2012 statistics are no different as 55% of teams were incomplete at the finish line. But none of us believed this statistic would apply to us. For our team, yours truly was the last man standing (barely) after 34.5 hours, 10 hours later than our expected time.
The term Planning Fallacy was coined by Nobel Laureate D. Kahneman. Humans seem to ignore external and objective evidence relevant to any activity or business they undertake; e.g., 2 in 3 marriages end in divorce, but almost all couples believe they will marry forever. Also 80% of businesses fail within 5 years, yet no entrepreneur believes they are part of these statistics. There are ways to learn from other people’s mistakes. I will address this topic in future posts.
Thanks to our planning delusion, we were about 8 hours late to arrive at an important checkpoint where we planned to pick up our night gear on time from our support crew. This was due to small delays due to a slower walking pace on very difficult terrains, longer resting times to attend to injuries etc. So we walked about 3 hours without any adequate lighting, relying on moonlight, other teams, and one headlight. One team member almost slipped down a cliff and another had a serious knee injury, slowing us down to a snail pace. And it was getting really cold, all increasing the risk of hyperthermia.
Don’t judge minimal delays or hiccups as insignificant. If not attended to, or accounted for, as they happen, they can wreck havoc. See also the blog on the related topic: We Can Be Blind To The Obvious.
Perspective is everything
The last 10km, I was shuffling in total agony. Then I came across an Oxfam guide who said to me “You have 5km to go, almost there!” I thought if I did 95km, I could easily bear another 5km. But soon after, I read a sign to the same effect that says “You are half way there!” meaning I had another 5km, of course. But this sentence triggered a different reaction in me. My mind immediately started to recall the very last 5km, which were truly painful. Can I cope with another 5km of even more pain? The thought seemed to stop me in my tracks.
There is absolutely nothing rational about these two different reactions to what is essentially the same thing. But it is a fact that our choices can be clearly manipulated with very simple priming. Think 90% fat-free versus 10% fat or cash discounts versus credit surcharge. I will cover these issues in more detail in future posts.
I take this opportunity to thank Oxfam Australia for allowing us and our supporters to contribute to such a great cause. I also sincerely invite you to support them in any way you can. The donation to my team will also remain open until October 2012 (please see: http://www.univero.com.au/oxfam-100k-trailwalker/).