Preparedness over prediction


Being prepared

One’s state of readiness is a key capability. In preparation for his Antarctic journey, Roald Amundsen apprenticed with Eskimos. He built a foundation of knowledge for his quest by learning as much as possible from practical experience about what actually worked. He adopted Eskimo clothing. He learned how they used dogs to pull sleds. He observed how they never hurried, instead they moved slowly and steadily to avoid excessive sweat that could freeze. He practiced Eskimo methods and trained himself for conceivable situations he might find himself in on his way to the South Pole.

Amundsen didn’t know what precisely lay ahead. He didn’t know the exact terrain, the altitude of mountain passes, or all the obstacles and problems he might encounter. Yet by anticipating possible things that might happen or go wrong and understanding their potential impacts, his preparedness no doubt helped reduce the risks he faced.

Amundsen’s preparedness created the capability to deal with uncertainty.

More informed planning

Amundsen’s new found knowledge informed his planning. For example, he didn’t just flag his primary supply depot, he placed twenty black pennants in precise increments for miles on either side, providing a target more than ten kilometres wide in case he was off course returning in a storm. To accelerate certain legs of his return journey, he marked his outbound path every quarter mile with the remnants of packing cases and every eight miles with black flags on bamboo poles. Scott did no such things. Amundsen stored three tons of supplies for five men versus Scott’s one ton for seventeen men. In his final push for the South Pole, he carried enough supplies to miss every single depot and still have enough to go another hundred miles.

Ready for anything

Amundsen’s philosophy was don’t wait until you’re in an unexpected storm to discover that you need more strength and endurance. Prepare all the time so that when conditions turn against you, you can draw from a deep reservoir of strength. Equally, prepare so that when conditions turn in your favour, you can strike hard.

In digital transformation and product development we should never be caught unprepared. We face continuous uncertainty and we can’t control nor accurately predict what goes on around us. But those forces beyond our control or chance events don’t necessarily have to determine our results. We must embrace the ambiguity. When the terrain is fast-moving and fluid we need a compass rather than a map. By being prepared we are more ready than we can ever be armed with a plan based on a prediction of the future.