I wish I could claim I was immune to procrastination but I am guilty and in most cases or situations, it’s not a significant issue. However, when catastrophe strikes, this is when the rubber meets the road. This can lead to panic, scrambling and even overreaction. Chronic procrastinators work to find others and place the blame on their shoulders. Another kind of procrastination is “kick the can down the road for others to worry about.”
Elected officials are masters of this tactic. The reasons are simple: they have limited terms in office, with current budgets that need to look good to the voters to keep them in office. The tough choices with decisions for the future are not likely to win them favor with voters, taxpayers or their constituents. An example of procrastination or “kicking the proverbial can” is a dam that fails. While a catastrophic collapse is not a typical occurrence, the reality of outdated equipment or neglecting the lifespan of a facility is genuine and all too common.
The cold snap of early 2021 in Texas brought down most of the state’s power grid. Texas is known to have one of the lowest costs for electricity in the country, but that came at a price. There were upgrades that were suggested to account for cold weather—and while other states followed them—Texas opted to ignore them. Will it happen again? Only time will tell.
I now think about the condominium collapse in Florida. It seemed unthinkable that this could occur. I have been asked to help many condominium boards with reports submitted to them by experts. It is common to have one report go to extremes of a total replacement, while another suggests all that is needed is a coat of paint. I have sat in on board meetings where tempers explode, as members take the side for the report they prefer to follow. The ones in the middle generally think, “Who do I believe?” I feel for the board members stuck in the middle the most.
The Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., cost 85 lives and was the most expensive natural disaster in the world in terms of insured losses. It was an oddity but expected. A television documentary on Front Line laid out what occurred leading up to the fire, including the millions spent on studies and plans that were either never implemented or flat-out ignored.
One person who ignored a plan by throwing it out the window was a California firefighter. He was operating a bulldozer in the thick of the fire and his manual told him not to do what he ultimately decided to do. He drove in and saved people. While he is hailed as a hero, he is uncomfortable with the label. His courageous action alone stands up to the monumental mistakes by many bureaucrats that horrific day.
Recently, my own city had an issue come up. We have a dam that was built in the late 1800s. The city notified us that the cost of water must increase dramatically to cover a major overhaul needed on the dam. While I agree it is good and the renovation is needed, how did 120 years pass and previous water boards fail to plan for this? The press conference noted that several million dollars were put aside for this project. However, today’s costs are far more than what was predicted, including required consultant studies, more layers of bureaucracy and projected costs. In short, we are tens of millions of dollars short. I suspect past water boards just buried their collective heads and kicked that can down the road to get an “atta boy” from the citizens.
The sad and brutal truth is no one wants to be the bearer of bad news. However, that kicked can cannot be kicked forever. Ultimately, some poor schmuck will be hit with reality, such as when the dam needs serious and immediate attention or be the official who has to explain why a tragedy occurred on their watch.
This “kick the can” philosophy is not limited only to public works projects. Shortsighted visions can affect industry training, marketing trends, a product line’s survival or the future of your own company. We all have schedules, deadlines and budgets to meet. It is best not to ignore the future; the future is beyond next month or even next year. It is too easy to kick that can down the road and focus on only what is right in front of you and immediate. That future will eventually come and could come hard and fast—like a cold winter blast, a wall of water or even a raging fire. The Boy Scouts are right. “Be prepared” before it is too late.
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