I stopped in at a running store last night, picking up a few essentials for my half marathon this weekend. Rather than the usual buzz of runners trying on shoes and jogging through the store, conversations about training schedules and race pace, everyone was focused on the television. The I-35W bridge, which connects downtown Minneapolis to the northern suburbs had collapsed less than an hour earlier, leaving dozens of vehicles tossed around like Matchbox cars. Everyone in the store was glued to the television in stunned silence.
What is it about tragedy that abruptly shakes us out of our normal rhythm and has us take a fresh look at our life, our goals, our connections?
I think the startling jolt comes from the fact that our assumptions have been vaporized. We trust that bridges will support us. We trust that the plane will take off and land safely. We assume that our friends and family will be there. These are what I would loosely categorize as safe assumptions. There is no reason to believe otherwise, unless we have specific knowledge that contradicts those assumptions.
But how often are we unwilling to challenge assumptions. We assume customers will always be loyal, difficult to work with, easy to work with, price conscious, value-centered or whatever. We assume competitors will pretty much respond to our innovation without noticing. We assume they will move slowly and customers will move quickly. True or not, what does it cost us to be wrong?
We must be willing to look at the brutal facts and review our assumptions from time to time. We need to balance competing tensions and values, both from a personal, organizational and strategic view. Then we need to test those assumptions and respond.
Now I am not saying that we should individually test every bridge we cross, inspect every aircraft we board or do a top-down safety check before we pull out of the garage in the morning. The question is what is the right frequency to look at things - and what do we measure.
This tragedy in Minneapolis yesterday triggered an immediate flurry of phone calls and emails to just reach out and ask, "I heard; are you okay?" Or, "I am okay. Just wanted to let you know."
It was reassuring to hear stories of heroism, thoughtless assistance, teary-eyed gratitude. It was reassuring to hear how many people were not injured, while we wait with those who have friends and relatives among the missing.
When making changes, we need not wait for crisis. When supporting change, we can reach out, connect, support the change or simply ask, "How is it going? How can I help?" And sometimes, maybe we need to create our own sense of positive urgency or crisis to get change moving before the crisis hits us when we least expect it.
Send good thoughts to the families of those affected by this tragedy. And go ahead, check in with some folks you have not reached out to in awhile. If there is something you can do to help someone who is affected, go ahead and surprise them. This is a chance to create some new assumptions about humanity on the positive side, too. We can sure use it.