Anticipate The Unexpected

Nothing is ever as easy as you think it will be.

When I was a kid, everything was possible. It’s not that I had a lot. I didn’t. I was poor, really poor. But I had a rich imagination and a Mom and Dad who encouraged me. It seemed my Dad could fix anything. If there was plumbing work to do, he did it. Fix the car, no problem. Build a masonry wall, just get him the cement blocks. My Mom was handy like that, too. She experimented in the kitchen, mended clothes, became president of the local Eagles aerie, and seemed to be able to do anything. My uncles and aunts built homes; grew their own vegetables; raised goats, chickens, pigs, whatever. Everything was possible.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case today. Things are too complicated, and unless you can program an app or are a computer whiz, things seem to be overly automated and the layperson has trouble using them, much less fixing them. We purchase a warranty, call in a specialist, or just buy a new one.

LESSON LEARNED EARLY

One thing I learned early in life is that things are never as easy as you think they will be. That’s because you have no idea what’s wrong or what’s needed until you start assessing the situation. Then, to no one’s surprise, things are more complicated than you ever expected. You may have heard the old adage that encourages you to “measure twice and cut once.” That’s true in building a birdhouse, planning a vacation, or implementing change within an organization. You really don’t know what’s going to happen or be needed until you learn the nitty-gritty by assessing the situation.

THE STORY

A recent example may help. I decided to get a teleprompter to make my training videos more focused and coherent. How hard can that be? Just put a piece of one-way glass in front of a camera and voila!—teleprompter. Not quite.

I bought a nice teleprompter, but only after taking several hours to find one that was professional yet not too expensive. The teleprompter required a cell phone or a tablet. The standard text on the cell phone wasn’t anywhere near large enough to be seen at a distance, and text that would be big enough would show too few words to make the narration conversational.

I needed a tablet, which I didn’t have. So off to Walmart, Costco, and Best Buy I went. Back and forth I went until I decided I was only going to use the tablet for the teleprompter and nothing else (well, maybe my granddaughter could use it for games). It took several trips to find one I liked and that was inexpensive. “Ah, that’s it,” I thought.

Nope, not quite yet. I needed a decent high-definition camera. Good news: I had a good one I used to create training videos. OK, now I’m set, right?

No, not yet. I tested the microphone on the camera, and while the audio quality was acceptable, there was a lot of ambient noise. If I hadn’t worked in a TV studio producing training videos, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. But I did, and the audio quality bothered me. I needed a wireless lavaliere mic, like the ones used on TV newscasts.

I wasn’t going to pay hundreds of dollars for a lav mic. So more research. I eventually found a set of two wireless lav mics and two hand-held mics for less than $40. They are in the mail. I plugged in a lav mic from another media device and the audio was good.

So with all the technology I needed, I set out to test everything. I wrote a script on my desktop computer, and then it hit me. I don’t have a teleprompter app on my tablet. Good grief!

Back to the Internet and reading reviews of teleprompter apps. I found one with all the features I needed that had mostly good reviews. It cost $4.99. It was delivered the next day. I installed it on the tablet. But there were no instructions, and downloading my MS Word script into the app was a mystery. I decided to connect with the developer, only to find out that’s impossible.

It took me several hours to figure out how to download the script, and, guess what? It’s not as simple as I thought it would be. But I had a teleprompter, tripod, tablet, camera, mic, and app. I set out to test it all.

You guessed it—there was another unexpected detail. I needed a programmable wireless remote to operate the teleprompter app from my chair. Otherwise, I’d have to get up and down to start, stop, speed up, and slow down the app. That was unacceptable.

After a few hours, I found an app in Spain that was perfect. I ordered it online. Later that night, I received an e-mail from my bank alerting me to a possible fraudulent purchase with my debit card. It thoughtfully withheld payment until it received confirmation from me that a debit to a company in Spain was legitimate. That meant logging onto my bank account to clear the payment. Simple enough, you might think. However, I had to change my online account password since I hadn’t used it in such a long time. That required assistance from the bank’s tech support group. Arrghh!

Now I’m waiting for the mics and the remote to arrive. My teleprompter is sitting in a corner of my office. My better half wants to know if “that thing” is a permanent fixture in the office, which she now says “looks like a television studio.”

THE MORAL

A great boss I once had always cautioned me to “expect the unexpected.” Good idea, but how does one do that? The unexpected is like the Spanish Inquisition in a Monty Python skit—no one expects it. I know, I didn’t spend enough time thinking through the idea of a teleprompter. I should have checked with one of my video production buddies, but I didn’t. After all, how hard could it be?

As I reflect back on what my boss told me, what he really meant was to anticipate that unexpected things will happen, things will go wrong, and what seems like “a piece of cake” requires you to first make the cake from scratch.

This advice is vitally important to people who lead change. I hope my little cautionary tale helped make that point.

Alan Landers is president of FirstStep OD & Training. He is an executive-level organizational development (OD) consultant with 40 years of experience. He and his partner, Liron Marks, are developing a Certification Program in OD and Change with the Peter Drucker Graduate School of Management.

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