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Getting Thereitis: When The Goal Becomes Too Important

Author: James Barton

On the 18th March 1967, a supertanker called the Torey Canyon crashed into Pollard’s Rock on Seven Stones reef between the Cornish mainland and the Isles of Scilly, creating one of the world’s most serious oil spills.


There were many reasons for and factors behind the crash, but the root of the issue was that the tanker was on a deadline to reach its destination in Milford Haven. If it didn’t reach the destination on time, it would have to wait a couple of weeks before it could dock due to tidal issues.


The captain was so focused on the goal he tried to take a short cut. Despite a number of lead indicators clearly showing there was a problem, and numerous opportunities to take alternative action, he continued with his plan… even though his plan was disastrous.

The inevitable plan crash

This dogged fixation on the execution of plan at all costs has cost many a project its success.


Sure, if the Torey Canyon had taken the longer, safer route, it would have had a costly delay. But the failure to consider this plan as the facts changed was catastrophic; for the company, the environment and also for the people involved.


There are so many lessons to learn from this story. I would strongly recommend reading more about it as it poses a cautionary tale for all of us, especially in business, and even more so right now when our plans can change at the drop of a hat.


I have seen plan after plan crash and burn on the back of a refusal to shift and adapt as facts changed.


It’s the same for developing our software, or executing on our sales transformation programs. We need to ensure we focus on the real goal, read all the lead indicators, and to adjust course if necessary.

The plan continuation bias

Another interesting part of the Torey Canyon story is about the captain himself; Captain Pastrengo Rugiati.


Rugiati was a man who liked to plan. He planned everything and made sure all the documents and paperwork were all filed and in order.


How, then, did he make such a monumental cock up? He suffered from Getting Thereitis – or to give it its proper name, “Plan Continuation Bias”.


We have all suffered from it. We get tunnel vision to achieve the goal, and before long we lose all reasonable ability not only to see the problem, but also to take action.


Rugiati had plenty of time to change course, but when he finally decided to take action and try to turn the ship, he found the ship wouldn’t turn.


By the time he had decided to take action, he was so flustered by the impending disaster that he had forgotten to check a very simple switch that activated the rudder controls. He couldn’t process routine data and check the basics because he was so worked up.

Remember to stay flexible

Again, I think we often suffer from the same thing. When we realise a plan is not working, we lose our ability to be objective and press the right buttons to get to the right results.


With all of our plans now subject to a different set of laws and even subject to government edicts and direction that can change day by day, it is important for us all that we remember to stay flexible, read the signs, check the indicators and remember the story of Torey Canyon… sometimes it is better to change direction than to hit the rocks.


If the captain of the Tory Canyon had looked at the leading indicators rather than being fixated on the end goal at all costs, the outcome could have been different. That story is why here at Mentor Group, we are obsessive about the leading indicators rather than the lagging indicators.


In conclusion…

When you engage with us, one of the very first things we do is develop a definition of success, which always starts with the leading indicators. We ensure that we know the early warning signs that allow us to course correct as required.


Nowhere is that more apparent than with our unique Sales Performance Diagnostic tool. It connects directly to your CRM and pulls of up to 20 metrics which, when analysed, give us strong leading indicators and can help us devise a unique program of digital learning and events that will push you back on track.


I would love to speak to you some more on the subject of using leading indicators and sales data, so please feel free to reach out to me anytime, and let’s talk.