Saturday, 13 December 2008

Sense of urgency - a critical asset in career and life

On the fateful day of 25 January 1990, Avianca Flight 52 crashed into Long Island, New York after ran out of fuel, killing 73 of the 158 people on board. The plane was put on hold from landing by Air Traffic Control several times on its way to New York due to bad weather. After on hold for more than one and a half hour, the crew asked for "priority" landing, which at their critical level of fuel shortage, they should have declared an emergency. The delays, a failed landing attempt at the about 10 minutes from the crash, and communication failure between the crew and air traffic controllers; all these caused the disaster where we all have so much to learn from.

The Avianca Flight 52 is a story of catastrophic result due to poor sense of urgency. There are several things we would find ourselves asking:

Why the crew failed to use the word "fuel emergency" to declare the extreme seriousness of their situation instead of asking for "priority landing"?

Shouldn't the sound of fear and urgency in the pilot and co-pilot's voices have been enough to show to the air controllers they are facing an emergency despite the culture and language barriers, had it been there?

Shouldn't the crew be more forceful and insist on being given immediate landing when they were redirected elsewhere, such as using some forceful words like "NOW" and "We can NO LONGER WAIT"?

A true sense of urgency is an exceptionally important asset for one to become successful in career and life. A true sense of urgency is not about being impatient on everything; it is not about rushing around energetically, running from meeting to meeting and screaming at people to execute. No; that is a false sense of urgency.

True urgency, according to John Kotter, a famous author, focuses on critical issues, which is needed now, not eventually, not when it fits easily into a schedule. True urgency is driven by a deep determination to win, not anxiety about losing. Now means making real progress every single day, not leaving ourselves with a heart-attack-producing task of running one thousand miles in the last week of the race.

With an attitude of true urgency, you try to accomplish something important each day, never leaving yourself with a heart-attack-producing task of running one thousand miles in the last week of the race. Critically important means challenges that are central to success or survival, winning or losing. A sense of urgency is not an attitude that I must have the project team meeting today, but that the meeting must accomplish something important today.

I still have a lot to learn on having a real sense of urgency, because I have always been a procrastinator on a lot of things. But slowly, I am improving; starting by doing the right thing and planning ahead. (Actually, to be honest, it is largely driven by working with a bunch of people with super sense of urgency. Haha....Ahem....).

In my previous blog post, I also mentioned that the lack of urgency caused an innocent girl to die of abuse because no one responded to the situations before it got critical. In Avianca Flight 52, it caused the death of 73 people. Although, not all things are matters of life and death, but I am sure we have a lot of things to learn from the past disasters caused by simple lack of urgency.

A week ago, I was absent from a special occasion; a wedding dinner of a wonderful couple, whom I personally get to know both of them really well. Earlier in the week, I made plan to work with my co-worker (also my partner) on the same weekend as the wedding dinner. My co-worker was working with me on part-time basis so the only available full days for us to work together is only during weekends and holidays. I had casually suggested to her that we need to work on certain outstanding issues, which seems quite important but not so urgent. She said she was busy but she might be free on coming weekend. I thought to myself then "I have a wedding dinner to attend on the same weekend" , but I did not say anything about that to her. Few days later, she confirmed she can meet on the weekend.

I know it will be marvelous for us we work together full day on the weekend because we can really make good progress with one whole day without interruptions. Unfortunately, this also means I could not go to the wedding dinner. So, I made a choice; to work on something that are important to me but relatively not so urgent; not because I have to but because I want to make good better progress in my work and maybe have the rest of following week free to do other things.! In fact, on that day, we worked from 1 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next day, on something that was totally not urgent! But we really did achieve something important because we have completed what we set up to do, and we are satisfied to know that we might be able to use our new-found knowledge anytime in the future.

So, if anyone of my friends ask me now or in the future why I do not show up at certain occasions, my general answer will be:
There are always a lot of choices we can make in our life. It is up to individuals to evaluate the priority and urgency of any of their choices. Since I want to be a business owner, having a sense of urgency in my work is very critical now.

I believe a sense of urgency is more than making the right choices, it has to be synchronized with our thoughts, feelings and actions; our attitude altogether. It should not only be used in work, but also in our everyday life. It is not rushing through things like I used to do last time; it is doing important things NOW instead of LATER.


Ching Yaw said...

Totally agree what u have said!!

Susan said...

@ching yaw,
Yeah, come to think of it - one year ago we were discussing the same thing when I shared with you about a friend of mine who took more than 1 month to update her resume to send to my boss, which you also totally agreed with me..haha.

Actually, the story ended that she never did send the resume because apparently, after 1 month, both parties acknowledged that the opportunities had gone by.

Ching Yaw said...

I don't think she is serious abt the job at all. I rmbr, that day was 25th of Dec 2007, the day before i went to Jakarta.Haha

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