The ability to anticipate what might happen in the future, and then to inform all concerned parties of the roles they will play should a certain event occur, is a critical part of achieving unity of command.
Royal Dutch Shell is famous for its commitment to “scenario planning.” The company has invested millions of dollars and decades of time and research in thinking through and preparing for various scenarios that might occur to interrupt their worldwide business. By 2000, they had fully developed more than 620 scenarios covering every possibility from pipeline ruptures in the Arctic to coups d’état in oil-producing African nations. No matter what happens in the world of oil production and distribution, they have an alternate plan already prepared and ready to go.
One of the most important exercises you engage in while running your business and your life is to “play down the chess- board.” Look into the future, six months, twelve months, and even three to five years. Make a list of the three to five worst things that could possibly happen in your personal and business life. What are they?
Imagine the loss of one or more of your major customers. Imagine your bank cutting off your credit. Imagine your product or service becoming obsolete or illegal. Imagine one or more of the key people in your business dying or leaving the company. What are the very worst things that could happen that could threaten the survivability of your business? What could you do to guard against them occurring?
Throughout history, until the 1800s, battles were directed by the general from his command post. Messengers and riders brought back information on the development of the battle, and the commander immediately made decisions to move or redeploy his forces. The ability to function well in the midst of a battle was essential for ultimate victory. Because of his place
at the crossroads of information flows, the commander could assure that only one person was given the critical commands that determined the movements and actions of the different forces involved in the battle.
Napoleon was famous for reconnoitering the sites of his battles carefully before the first shot was fired. He had a finely developed sensitivity for the roll of the terrain and for the various features of the landscape that could be used to hide or move troops. He visualized how a battle might unfold, how his troops might move on the battlefield, and how his enemies might respond to the various movements he could make. By the time the battle began, Napoleon had thought through all the various scenarios that might unfold during the course of the conflict. This enabled him to be the single commander having a vision and understanding of the entire battlefield and what could be done to achieve victory. Because command was unified in one man, every divisional commander knew that his orders were a part of a larger plan of battle.
Napoleon was legendary for his quickness of decision when he was brought information on the shifting fortunes of his various detachments. What the people around him did not know was that he had carefully thought through every possibility well in advance. Whatever happened, he was prepared to instantly make a decision and take action. What appeared to be brilliance (which it was) was really evidence of careful advance mental preparation. You should do the same.
Whatever the worst possible events are that could occur sometime in your future, begin today to develop alternate scenarios. Determine the worst thing that could possibly go wrong, and then make sure that it doesn’t happen. Follow the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.”