(excerpt from It Doesn’t Just Happen:  The Gift of Failure)


Have A Preparation Mindset

The key is to accept that shit doesn’t just happen. As you now know, most catastrophes are the result of cascade events. The origins of future catastrophes lie in our past and in our present.

When my A-Team traveled, my engineers would always be looking at things they saw with a different perspective than most people. When they saw a bridge, they were mentally calculating how to blow it up. When they saw a stream, they were thinking how to dam it and provide a water supply to villagers. My weapons men would look at terrain for fields of fire for direct and targeting points for indirect fire weapons. To be a survivor, you have to look at your environment in terms of what you can use and what can be a threat, which requires you to assume a different mindset for a while.

The best way to prevent a catastrophe is to plan for it. If engineers at NASA had not planned for the unlikely ‘lifeboat’ possibility, the crew of Apollo 13 would have never made it back.



Pay attention, both to immediate events and surroundings, and the past. We generally think in one of two different ways: a big picture thinker or a detail thinker.

Both types are needed. Understand yourself and those in your organization.

A big picture thinker can see patterns. This person can put the pieces together in order to see trends that could lead to catastrophe.

A big picture thinker would see the flow of history regarding bubbles and have known the housing bubble was inevitable.

Unfortunately, a big picture thinker might miss the key details that make up those trends.

challengerA big picture thinker might have passed over that single sentence in the book about the Hastings Cutoff and focused on the fact the California Trail was the way people had successfully been journeying to California.

Binoculars locked up on a huge ship like the Titanic is a pretty small detail at the time, but in retrospect, that single event looms large.

And a detail thinker might miss how each piece is part of a larger tapestry.

For the New London Schoolhouse, some people certainly noted the ill students, but might not have been able to connect that with leaking gas.

For both types, they have to focus hard on the area they are lacking.

I’m a big picture thinker. So I’ve had to work very hard to focus on details. I’ve had to learn not to get upset when a detail is pointed out to me that I haven’t noticed. In fact, I’ve had to learn to focus on what I call an anger indicator. I always advise people that when they get angry, it’s usually because they’re hearing or seeing or experiencing a truth they don’t want to.

When I get angry, I always try to focus on what exactly it is that is making me upset and in doing so I can often uncover key truths. The more an organization fights something, the more likely that something is going to be part of a cascade event.

More on this in Who Dares Wins: Special Operations Strategies for Success.

Shit Doesn’t Just Happen I and II available at all platforms via this landing page.