Time to get out of Dodge

A Dodge City deputy sheriff had stopped me late one night. Setting the parking brake, I met him at the door, and he explained that the bus had no taillights. We walked to the rear, and it was bright as Times Square.

The deputy apologized and turned me loose. Truth is, I should have apologized… I knew the bus’s taillights were misbehaving, but when the parking brake popped on, so did the brake lights. The short-term answer was to depart Dodge with one foot lightly on the brake, under the watchful (but naive) eye of the deputy.

It was an elegant solution to a crisis, not a practical long-term fix. I’m not sure what SOL means to you, but for me it’s “statute of limitations” if I need to pass through Dodge City again.

We all understand the tension between short-term and long-term management. If we don’t do something to manage a short-term disaster, we won’t be around to worry about the long term.

Sometimes it’s tempting to bump along from crisis to crisis, happy just to have survived the day. The hard thing is to remember that improvising your way through a crisis should only be a way to survive long enough to march toward to a viable long-term plan.

Two things to think about… first, we need a vision. There needs to be a trajectory and a target. General Eisenhower said, “I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Plans rarely survive a collision with reality intact, but the effort to formulate them pays dividends as we figure out our capabilities and shortcomings.

Second… crises become disasters when short-term patching limits (or crushes) future options. Best guess is that driving with a foot on the brake didn’t improve fuel mileage or brake life, and the taillights were still kaput.

Selling critical assets to meet a temporary crunch limits your ability to recover and ugly refinancing has caused many companies to die young. Committing to new, risky ventures without understanding risks is akin to Russian roulette.

Even in the middle of a disaster, weigh how your response will impact future capabilities. Try finding a solution that has the least effect on your prospects once you’re over the hump.

One of my heroes started a rogue bus line in the 1970s with one 4106 and no operating authority. Eventually he was able to buy new coaches. While his competitors were all financing buses for 10 years, my guy did five years.

He struggled with constipated cash-flow and staggered from crisis to crisis, but never succumbed to the short-term temptation of refinancing. He was “bound” for glory (pun intended) because once he’d survived five painful years, he had paid-up buses and tons of equity. Years later he sold his bus line for a bazillion dollars.

He didn’t solve short-term problems in ways that limited his future opportunities.

I’m not bright enough to give advice on what to do, but I can steal ways of thinking from Ike and my bazillionaire buddy… and parrot them.

Susan has had four knee replacements in three years (faulty implants, NOT four legs). Each surgery seemed a crisis, with beaucoup pain to follow. Rehab mimics medieval torture, and she was tempted to skimp on bending because it FREAKING HURTS.

After several implants she figured out that by doing the right, if painful, things during the ugly times (tortuous acrobatic rehabilitation) her wish to cavort on painless knees would come true. Now she has only one long-term pain… me.


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