Our team is down by 5 points, they are on the 40 yard line, 3 seconds left to play. Hike! Everyone scrambles for the endzone and the quarterback throws a high arching spiral that seems to hang in the air as the end of game whistle blows. It falls down into a mass of players, all jumping to try to bring the ball down in their hands. The pack consumes the ball into a sweaty heap and the referee slowly peels players off to find out whether it was caught. TOUCHDOWN! High fives and exhilaration and exciting story to recall for years to come.
We love dramatic endings in life just like we do in our stories. The hero overcomes incredible odds to slay the dragon and save the village. We see this modeled in sports but it also often happens at work. We find ourselves facing an insurmountable deadline and through the sacrifices of many, somehow we get it done. Just like a Hail Mary this requires as much luck as skill to carry out and just like a Hail Mary pass, there are far more misses than successes. Not being fond of stories with bad outcomes, we forget them. Who tells the story about the last-ditch that failed or the project deadline that was not met even though people sacrificed to try to make it happen? We don’t tell those stories. They’re depressing and so we forget them.
This can make us feel that a successful ending that required tremendous sacrifice and risk was a good thing rather than recognizing them as failures. Why did we let the game get to this point that such a high risk last-ditch effort was required? How did we not account for the risks earlier in this project to allow us to have to try to stop almost everything to get this project done? These aren’t the questions we ask because after all, we won. And yet, it’s important to recognize that finding ourselves in a situation where the only thing left is some crazy scheme is a failure regardless of its outcome.
Because we are wired to love heroic endings, we won’t naturally remember to focus on preventing the problems and reward those who do instead of simply focusing on the heroes that save the day. While we should never underestimate the ingenuity of humans in distress, we should recognize that we are better off if we avoid needing to exercise that ability.
Related Post: Remembering The Non-Event: How we corrupt our own conclusions