Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Floating Down the River of Decision Making

A strange story from Arizona history illustrates the danger that lurks in the details.

During World War II, a prisoner of war camp was set up in what is now the Papago Park area of Phoenix. German prisoners of war, many of them hard-core Nazis, were kept at the camp. Italian prisoners of war were also held in the Phoenix area.

Toward the end of the war, some of the German prisoners planned an escape. Their plan was to dig a tunnel in a "blind spot" created by hanging laundry and crawl under the fences. By studying a map, they concocted a plan to make their way to a nearby river and float down to Mexico. They could then return to Germany and continue the fight.

There was only one problem with the scheme and they learned this after the escape. Although the map clearly indicated a river, rivers in Arizona - unlike those in Germany - are often missing an important item: water. There was nothing to float on. The POWs were soon caught.

The assumptions that we bring to decision making can be jarring. Like the German POWs, we often see rivers where none exist. The team will pull together and do marketing. The product's advantages are self-evident. The associates will speak up if they see a problem. The options that we are debating are in fact available. The list goes on.

That's why listing the assumptions is so important. In the end, the things that we disagree on may be far less harmful than the ones we all assume.

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