Stop and Think [The Flood, the bridge, the helicopter and a hat stand.]

Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence.
— Thomas Szasz

Disasters happen, do you stop and think before taking action?

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an international course on the Six Thinking Hats® workshop in Sydney conducted by Rebecca Stewart who is the MD of Chalmers International and Director of The Holst Group in the UK. Not only a formidable international business woman, but also an outstanding trainer. As the session progressed I could see the application to my business, my clients’ business and just recently to me at a private level. You can contact Rebecca on: 

For me the message from her workshop around the creative power of stopping and thinking before jumping in too quickly with a solution, or as Rebecca would say, “The power of taking time to think is what creates breakthroughs,” was particularly relevant.

My family and I live in Sydney and we also own a slice of paradise in the Hunter Valley in Australia. Due to a whole lot of reasons with travel and our 3 daughters growing up and not coming to the farm as often, we decided a few months ago to sell the farm.  We had many people fall in love with the place and a couple made an offer, we accepted and were just about to exchange contracts on the Friday afternoon in April when disaster struck on the Sunday.

On that fateful day in late April, the Hunter Valley was hit with more rain than expected, the river on our border rose higher than any other time in the past 127 years and swept our 60 metre, 100 year old bridge down river. The only access to our secluded valley. No access in or out, power knocked out and damage up and down the river.

We kept ringing the agent and no answer, we were concerned that our buyers had seen the TV coverage of the devastation and decided to keep their money dry, so to speak.

Late Wednesday afternoon of that very wet week, the real estate agent rang, emotionally exhausted by the floods. They had just spoken to the potential buyers who were still interested in buying our 4 bedroom mud brick house, still in paradise, but very wet and now with water views.

I knew from the Six Thinking Hats® workshop that I needed to come up with a very creative way to sort this out. The river was still flowing too fast for a boat to organise an inspection, there was a goat track into the property over a large mountain with inherent dangers and not proven to be passable in dry weather, let alone wet conditions.

Everybody is confronted with disasters in their business: client, supplier, pesky levels of Government. And it is hard when you are sinking in mud, watching a buyer float away to stop and think, it can almost feel like one task too many. Personally, the times I have gone astray have been mostly because we failed to stop and think.

A key phrase for me from the course by Rebecca:

“Fail to plan, plan to fail.”

So I thought this is a good time to apply two of the six thinking hats, we have a hat stand at our farm and I smiled to myself as I was about to apply the learnings from the course to my own personal disaster.

Firstly I needed a Yellow Hat that symbolises brightness and optimism, this was a big hat for me. Secondly the Green Hat that focuses on creativity, possibilities and other alternate ideas.

I then had a Eureka moment and started doing an Irish Jig in the field.

I rung the agent and said, “What if I fly you and the buyers in by helicopter. They can do the inspection and if happy, we can proceed with all the arrangements as discussed?” Her first reaction was, “You are mad,” then she rang the buyers and they agreed. They did fly in the following week, the house had no damage and they purchased the property the next day.

Here are 3 things that I learnt from the workshop that helped with selling the farm:

  • Make the time to think and do it
  • Make it regular
  • Use tools and frameworks to ensure you challenge any personal bias

Whether it is a business issue or like the farm a private matter, stop and think about what is possible before taking action too quickly. Yes the helicopter was a creative solution. It worked because the potential buyers still wanted to buy the farm, but were concerned with a mud brick construction in a flood that had not occurred in 127 years.

You will at times have problems with your major accounts or an issue will arise at a critical negotiation; re-think your approach and frame your response in possibilities and not what can’t be done.