Anticipate, Prepare, and Practice, Practice, Practice.

This post is about the power of anticipating risks and preparing for them through practice.

Earlier we discussed a major study of what leads to success in life. The study tracked Harvard students from  youth to old age in order to find characteristics that were precursors of the ability to have good, sustainable relationships and to be successful in one’s work life. The results were summarized in a book called “Adaptation to Life”, by George Vaillant. Among other things, the investigators identified “anticipation” as an important factor.

Anticipation is the tendency to think ahead, to scope out problems and prepare for them before they arrive in overwhelming force.

An excellent example of the power of anticipation as a resilience resource was described in Amanda Ripley’s book “The Unthinkable”. She describes how one man saved close to 3000  lives during the 9/11 attack, and sacrificed his own.

The man was Rick Rescorla, a decorated Veteran of the Vietnam War, who took a job that called upon him to take care of the security of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, which occupied several floors of Tower Two.

You may or may not know that the Towers had been attacked earlier, in the early 1990’s. Rescorla, with the help of a carefully selected colleague, had anticipated that the easiest way to attack them was to drive a truck full of timed explosives into the lower floor parking lot and walk away. This is exactly what happened in the earlier attack.

Rescorla was confident that another attack was coming. He and his expert colleague even decided that it most likely would involve flying a plane loaded with explosives into the Towers.

That first attack enabled Rescorla to get backing to require that Morgan Stanley employees fully participate in drills, in which they practiced exactly how to get out of the towers promptly.

Previously, during drills people just stepped out into the lobby on their floor and chatted. Since their work had a very high monetary value, higher ups might not even leave their offices. Rescorla insisted that even visitors had to be given instructions on what to do in the event of an attack.

When the attack came on Tower One, Rescorla ordered an immediate evacuation. He used a bullhorn to guide people to safety.  “When the Tower collapsed only thirteen Morgan Stanley employees-including Rescorla and four of his security officers-were inside. The other 2687 were safe”.  The last time Rescorla and his companion security officers were seen, they were not fleeing the building. Apparently they were going back in an attempt to save a few people who had not come out.

Obviously, what happened at the Twin Towers on 9/11 was exceptional, as was Rick Rescorla, but his approach to dealing with threats applies to many kinds of challenge. Thinking ahead, developing a plan for dealing with what might happen and practicing over and over is useful for experiences we all might face routinely. And we all might, at times, also face extreme situations.

So learn to deal with risks, take time to anticipate them, develop strategies to cope with them. Then practice, practice, and practice some more.

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