Are you prepared to think quickly in an emergency?

On Sunday afternoon my wife and I went on a rare date to the grocery store. It must have been a thing that day because we ran into our friends Tricia and Dan Kane who were also on a grocery date. The four of us talked for a few minutes until we were interrupted by some grocery store drama.

The Incident

Another couple, apparently on their own grocery store date, was walking down the aisle, when one of them knocked a large bottle of cooking oil off of the shelf and onto the floor. True to its name, the shatterproof bottle did not shatter. But when the bottle hit the floor (let the bottle hit the floor), the flip cap lid flipped open.

Suddenly, cooking oil, in all of its golden glory, glugged onto the floor in the grocery store’s busiest intersection. It was like the grocery store equivalent of the Deepwater Horizon well spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

A crowd of Sunday shoppers stopped to watch the drama unfold.

As the oil continued to pulse out of the bottle, the corn oil slick grew larger and larger. You could practically hear Florence Henderson’s heart breaking over this loss of perfectly good Wesson. Would it ever stop?

Paralyzed

The couple that caused the oilcident stood motionless over the oozing mess. Then the man said, ‘We need to tell them there has been a spill.’  Then he repeated with more concern and more volume, ‘We need to tell them there has been a spill!’ As the corn oil continued to flow like midwestern lava across the grocery store floor.

After the man shouted the second time that a report had to be made, I realized he was not in a state of mind to be able to put an end to this crisis. Visions of the Exxon Valdez disaster filled my head. I thought, not on my watch…

Taking Action

I was standing 20 feet away from the epicenter of the oil spill when I lightly sprang into action. Where others may have fled from the disaster, thinking only of their own safety and cleanliness, I walked toward the expanding oil spill. I was running on instinct and adrenaline. When I reached ground zero, I reached down, grabbed the bottle, and set it upright.

Suddenly, the oil stopped spilling. The disaster was contained. And shoppers resumed shopping. It was the simplest and most effective thing anyone could have done to mitigate the issue. A toddler could have recognized the solution and had the mental capacity to upright that fallen bottle to stop the flow of corn oil.

Yet the adult male at the center of the crisis could only think that someone needed to be told there was a problem. While the woman stared, motionless, unable to process her next move.

Responsibility

When you see a problem, or create a problem, don’t just pass it along to someone else. Act to solve it. Work to reduce it. Do what you can to prevent it from getting worse. To watch a preventable problem spread without lifting a finger to stop it is irresponsible. Don’t simply announce that there is a fire. Throw some water on it.

Take responsibility for the problems you face. Imagine you are the only one who can address them. Then do so. Develop a bias towards decision making and action. Those biases get things done. They solve problems. And they make you a more valuable employee, friend and neighbor.

Key Takeaway

When things go wrong, don’t just report the problem. Be part of the solution. Diagnose quickly. Think quickly. Act quickly. Focus on what you can do. Then do it without delay. It will help prevent a small mishap from becoming a massive problem.

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