Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Stay Cool Like An Astronaut

How do you respond in an emergency?
(Note, please, that today's emergencies might be nothing tomorrow.)

On one end of the scale are people who run around yelling and screaming. They interrupt everyone. Everything comes to a halt. They want results now, Now, NOW!

At the other end of the scale are those who respond calmly, assess their resources, determine the facts in front of them, gather information, and make rational decisions.

We all know we should all be in the latter category. But sometimes we can't help ourselves.

A client does something stupid and we say "Fine. I'll never go out there again." An employee makes a mistake and we berate them instead of educate them.

It takes a great deal of practice to stop, take a deep breath, and respond calmly to an urgent situation. Pumping everyone full of adrenaline so they all run around in a panic is never a good thing (unless you're organizing a riot).

Consider this recording:

http://www.arts-letters.com/apollo13/audio/problem.wav
( from this page: http://www.arts-letters.com/apollo13/audio.html )

Here's the situation. Three men in a prehistoric space craft. 35,729 miles from earth. Traveling 10,400 feet per second. They just lost their oxygen supply.

Notice that no one's voice sounds scared. No one's in a panic. "Houston, we've had a problem."

Not "Oh my God! We're all gonna die! Get me out of here! This is all your fault, you bastards."

Sit tight. We're going to assess the situation.

Here's a little perspective. If these guys can keep their cool, then you should be able to avoid panic when someone deletes the most important database in the company. Really.

I recommend the following mantra: Know what you know. Know what you don't know.

Stay calm and professional. Stay cool, like an astronaut.

These guys may very well feel panicky, but they don't act on it.

Panic never contributes to your success. This is true for the moment, for a project, and for the long-run. No one ever writes a process that includes "if else, then panic."

I remember about six years ago I was sliding a hard drive into a server. It wasn't lined up right and I was too exuberant. I literally sheared off a capacitor from the bottom of the drive. This was THE drive for the server. My job was to install a second drive so we could mirror THE drive.

Suddenly, my job became: Make THE drive live long enough to image it to the new drive. I had to find an identical capacitor and solder it in place of the old one. The client was looking over my shoulder when I did this. Luckily, he was a gunnery sargent who had returned from Desert Storm One, so he wasn't about to panic over one little electrical component.

With a little calm deliberation, we determined where to get the part. I soldered it in place, and the drive fired right up. I ate the cost of yet another hard drive, and the labor. But the entire "detour" was only an hour. I believe that yelling, screaming, and pulling hair would have delayed the repair process considerably.

It's also very important to know what you know. I knew enough about electronics to make this successful. If it were just the client and not me, he would have taken the drive to a data recovery shop for $1,500 minimum. Then he would have had a long delay as he rebuilt his system and waited for the data.

We each have a certain personality type. You may not be able to change your first "gut" reaction very easily. But over time, with practice, you can learn to stay in control. Assess the true situation and don't let any one or any thing make you panic. Seek qualified input. Stay calm. Be professional.

If you could step back and see yourself from the outside, you could examine each day and each interaction. What you'd see is that a calm, informed response will serve you well every time.

( As a side note: This kind of experience teaches you to slow down. In the long run, we get more done when we slow down just a bit. )

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