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Just fix it

“Just fix it”

That’s what my boss said to me, and then he hung up.

It was a Friday night back in 1990. I was pulling a solo night shift at the Alpha plant. It was 2:30 in the morning. My job was to monitor a process reaction throughout the night, and adjust operating parameters as needed to keep the reaction going smooth. And there I stood, watching the pressure on this reactor creep up. We knew pressure rise was typical, and I had a response protocol to follow. So I followed my protocol and…it didn’t work. The pressure kept going up. Bad things were starting to happen.

Bad things happen on the night shift

Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Bhopal, Exxon Valdez. Bad stuff ALWAYS happens on the night shift; and there I was, right in the middle of it, alone.

So I made the call, “Boss, the pressure’s going up, what should I do?”

“Just fix it” *click*

You have to be realistic about these things. Sometimes help isn’t coming. Sometimes the only choice is fix it or fail.

So I fixed it. It wasn’t complicated, but it was definitely off-protocol. Clogged vent filter, isolate the line, re-route the exhaust, change the filter, restore the correct flow, and watch the pressure drop back to normal. The whole thing took about 15 minutes.

That’s the essence of self reliance: having the courage to respond and react with conviction when you’re all alone and you have no answers, no resources, and no support.

Link to to Emerson’s “Self Reliance” in right hand margin

Self reliance is what happens at the intersection of confidence, preparation and active engagement with the current situation. Self reliance is a form of personal risk management.

These practices can help you develop a greater sense of self-reliance:

  1. Be realistic. There is a good chance that things will not go according to plan.
  2. Know your business and obsess over your processes. Study and monitor constantly.
  3. Know what can go wrong and have a plan to fix it.
  4. Learn to recognize the signs that things are going astray.
  5. Mindful intent: make the decision to react before things go wrong. Visualize your response.

To spend your life planning for Black Swans is neurotic, but to cultivate the habit of mindful preparation, confidence, and awareness will help you deal when the world says “just fix it”.

Where in your life do you seek greater self reliance, and how are you going about that process?

How do you actively practice self reliance?

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  1. PTS
    May 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Nice essay Alex. Agree 100% Independent thinking and initiative need to be present at all levels of an organization.

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