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When the wrong answer is the right one.

By Steve Geary | 05/07/2014 | 8:57 AM

We are creatures of habit, but we are adaptable creatures of habit.  If we are smart, we learn what works for us, refine it over time, and apply it in new situations. 

Military logisticians have to be, given the situations we face.  Try moving something out of Afghanistan, with Iran on one side, Pakistan on the other, and the Ukraine not that far to the north, and you darn sure have to be ready to digest a paradigm shift.

When faced with a challenge in a new situation, or a new environment, a good logistician will reach into to the toolbox, find something that worked in the past and try to adapt to fit the new circumstance.

Pull out the tool, use it, apply the legacy rule set, compare what you find with what you might have seen before, sift out the nugget, make sense of it all and use it to make the right decision in the altered circumstance.

Sometimes the nugget you find is exactly the wrong answer based on the legacy rule set, a bit of an Alice in Wonderland experience.  When this happens, you have to be smart enough to realize that you just aren’t in Kansas anymore.

I was part of a hiring team this past week to bring on our first employee in a start-up operation in Afghanistan.  I don’t know the country terribly well, but you need to start somewhere.

Reaching into my bag of tricks, I started the process several weeks ago, got a network going, screened some resumes along the way, had some Skype conversations, and ended up with a short list of finalists.

We did the interviews.

I was down to my last interview, the final candidate of three, and asked one of my standard interview questions, straight out of the toolbox.

“Can you describe for me a work situation where you had to handle a difficult person, bring them into line, in order to meet your objectives?”

Without hesitation, the candidate said, “Sure.  I tackled a guy once.”

Now, every fiber of my being was quivering.  Tackled a guy?

“Well, do you really think a physical assault was the best way of handling the situation?”

“Absolutely.  I didn’t want to shoot the old man.  He wasn’t responding to my commands, the whole platoon was aiming their rifles at him, I had to clear the road, so I tackled him.”

Turns out that the workplace incident was when he was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Afghanistan National Army leading a patrol on the Jalalabad Road, not exactly the safest of places in the world.  It’s the sort of place where most would shoot first, ask questions later.

“I patted him down, he was clean, and I asked him what he was doing.  Turns out that the old man was just trying to find some food for his kids, and that sort of desperation makes you do funny things.  I’m glad I tackled him.  I saved his life.”

Yup, I’m a long way from Kansas.  We hired the guy.



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About Mike Rudolph

Mike Rudolph

Mike Rudolph is a recently retired Marine Colonel with over 30 years of operational experience, proven leadership, and management success in the logistics and supply chain management fields. He is an executive consultant with ROSE Solutions and the Supply Chain Visions family of companies - consultancies that work throughout the government sector. Mike led the Marine Corps Supply Chain and Life Cycle Management Center at Marine Corps Logistics Command - responsible for supply chain and life cycle management of all ground weapon systems, equipment, and reparable components, the depot maintenance program, and equipment prepositioning program. During 2004-2008, he served two tours of duty in Anbar Province, Iraq as the G-4 for Multi-National Force – West, supporting all combat operations and coalition efforts to revitalize Iraqi economic development and stability. Mike's efforts were recognized with the Bronze Star for his first tour and the Legion of Merit for his second. He was widely recognized as a visionary and innovator in the Marine Corps logistics community.


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