Movement Is Life

13 Jan

The above title is a line from the film World War Z. Set during a zombie apocalypse, the protagonist, played by Brad Pitt, has sought refuge with his family in the apartment of another family. Brad Pitt’s character, an experienced UN crisis investigator, explains to his fellow survivors that they can’t just stand still, they have to move; in his experience those people who survive hostile situations are the people who move. And so, movement is life.

Many years ago I was climbing a mountain with friends in Hawaii, totally unprepared and with hardly any gear. As we got higher I found myself on a rock face and noticed the clouds around me; and I froze, I was literally stuck to the rock like a gecko. My friend’s girlfriend was above me and saw that I wasn’t moving; she effortlessly made her way down to me and simply said “you got to move man, there’s no other option”. It was all I needed and quickly started climbing again, she told me what Brad Pitt’s character had explained to his fellow survivors- movement is life.

On that rock face all I wanted to do was stay still, be safe, block out the world. It’s a pattern I’ve come to see over and over again in my research on decision making and risk. Staying still, sticking with the plan, convincing yourself that perceived stability is the best option is very appealing. It is so appealing that human beings are inclined to explain away contradictory information which might suggest that the situation has changed or that a plan is going wrong, until it’s too late. The longer a static position is defended the more brittle it becomes, so that when an unavoidable obstacle is encountered the more pieces it shatters into. When organisations and the people within them dig in and defend positions against all contrary information then the results can be quite catastrophic.

Weick (2009) has suggested adopting a more mindful approach to organizing, which, crudely summarized, calls for sensitivity to small changes and the constant adaption of plans in light of these changes. In other words, Weick also suggests that movement is life, stay aware of changes and keep adapting, keep moving. Klein (2012) and Crandall et al (2006) argue similarly when discussing the difference between experts and novices. Experts know the risks inherent in plans far more intimately and so remain more vigilant and prepared to adapt quickly. Novices on the other hand tend to place too much faith in procedures and expect events to go to plan. My own field work has produced similar results across areas as diverse as clinical decision making and construction site management. The experts and those considered “the best” in these areas were the people who adopted a “dynamic mind-set” meaning they saw initial plans as only starting points which most likely wouldn’t survive in detail as situations progressed. In contrast, people who did not perform to such a high level were those who stuck with the initial plan, defended it against contradictions, and consequently encountered errors far more frequently; they stayed stuck in that apartment.

So let’s move back to World War Z and our protagonist persuading his fellow survivors that though the apartment seemed a safe refuge, this was only a temporary condition at best, that movement is life. Although nobody will ever have to survive a zombie apocalypse (touch wood), movement is life applies to any situation which involves change-people, weather, business, anything else. It’s only possible to dig in and rely on a plan for so long, a plan is like that apartment from World War Z, it’s a static temporary base which seems to offer a safe haven, but it’s an illusion; sooner or later the world will coming crashing in and so it’s far better to stay ahead of the curve by staying in motion, adapting and preparing- movement is life.

Texts

Weick, K.E. 2009, Making Sense of the Organization (Volume 2) The Impermanent Organization, Blackwell

Klein, G., Phillips, J. K., Rall, E., & Peluso, D. A. (2007). A data/frame theory of sensemaking, In R. R. Hoffman (Ed.) Expertise out of Context. Erlbaum: Mahweh, NJ

Crandall, B. Klein, G. Hoffman, R. (2006)Working Minds: A Practitioner’s Guide to Cognitive Task Analysis” Cambridge, MA: A Bradford Book

 

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