October 16, 2010

Five Lessons From The Chilean Rescue

This week, we as humankind were renewed by the rescue of the 33 miners in Chile.

“Viva Chile! They Left No Man Behind” writes Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal (16-17, Oct. 2010).

The Chileans took what was a human tragedy and instead turned it upside down and inside out into a worldwide victory!

Yet, as the rescue unfolded first with the search for the miners, their discovery, their being sustained while rescue tunnels were dug, and then ultimately as each miner—one by one—was brought to the surface safely—clean-shaven and smiling, I couldn’t help thinking to myself how perfectly everything was going—each time again and again—and then starting to worry that something has got to go wrong here (almost by Murphy’s Law)—this is too perfect!

Yet, nothing went wrong, it was a watertight rescue of all the miners.

As flawed human beings with all our warts and all, I think we were at some level shocked with disbelief by the flawless events that unfolded.

No cost overruns, no schedule delays, no one was hurt, no glitches in equipment or otherwise. It was a run of complete success that almost never happens in real life and yet, we all saw it unfold one, two, three…thirty-three before our very eyes.

This doesn’t happen in real life—only in fairy tales, right? This certainly doesn’t happen in most information technology projects! ;-)

But even more stunning to us than the success of the rescue itself was the undercurrent of the prevailing of good over evil manifesting before us—almost like G-d was revealing himself to us again, as he did in Biblical times. As one of the miners poetically said: “I met G-d. I met the devil. G-d won.”

The shocker here was that a people, nation, and in effect the entire world was focused on saving these 33 simple miners. This in our day and age, when we have become more accustomed to those who dehumanize and devalue human life, rather than those who genuinely value and safeguard it as the Chileans did.

As Ms. Noonan puts it: “They used the human brain and spirit to save life. All we get every day is scandal.”

Recent events remind us of the huge contrast between those who value life and those who don’t, such as 9-11, almost daily suicide (read “homicide”) bombings for political aims, the blatant proliferation and threats of WMD (and now cyber warfare), the violation of human rights by dictatorships and thugs around the world, including political imprisonments, rigged elections, restrictions of free information flow, and more violent acts such as mass rapes, female genital mutilation, genocide, slave prison camps, and more.

Moreover, while we witness events going wrong everyday and governments, companies, and peoples seeming unable to set things right, in Chile, we saw a nation and a people that set their minds and might to bringing the miners home safely and they did, period.

There are some important lessons here for us for the future:

  1. Find the moral good. It starts with valuing and safeguarding human life. Our agenda should always be to prioritize helping others and saving lives. The Chileans did just that when they didn’t wring their hands and just walk away from the tragedy saying it was over. Instead, saving the lives was a national priority. Similarly, providing the speedy drill to the Chileans from the U.S. that tunneled in half the time to the miners was a gesture that we too value life and are partners with them in saving the miners.
  2. Contain the problem. The problems we face are “ginormous” (read: gigantic and enormous) and the only way we are gong to be able to overcome them is to break them down into pieces and attack them at their source. The Chileans took a big rescue operation and by decomposing it into plan A, B, and C, etc. and tackling each piece of the problem (locating the miners, sustaining them, rescuing them, etc.), they made the solution doable.
  3. Leverage technology. We are hampered in our abilities by our own human limitations. But we can extend our capabilities and expand those limits through technology. The rescue of the miners used many new technologies in drilling, communications, and materials to make the rescue not only possible, but also probable. We need to constantly innovate and use technology to make the impossible, possible.
  4. Stand united. No question, we are stronger together than apart. The Chilean nation and people united in their efforts to rescue and bring home the miners. It was a mission they believed in and which they stood together in accomplishing. Politics, infighting, and mudslinging can divide us when we need to be unified. We need to understand that when we take pot shots to score points, we undermine the mission and the successes we desperately need.
  5. Stay positive. Even in the face of what seems like assured calamity, we must keep our wits, stay strong, and focus on solutions. If we do this, we can say goodbye to Murphy’s Law, and helpless and hopelessness be gone. A renewed spirit of optimism and a can-do attitude can carry us forward to new heights that we can all be proud of.

As the article states: the Chileans “set to doing something hard, specific, physical, demanding of commitment, precision, and expertise. And they did it.” And we can again do it too.


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