A recent blog post by I read in the New York Times used a quote that I’ve seen before but it seemed especially apt in view of this week’s Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan – “No matter how prepared you are, Mother Nature bats last.”
We now have the ability to use computer models to calculate the possible and the probable. But when it comes to real life application – we plan for the probable almost every time.
- The levees around New Orleans held storm surges at bay — until Katrina.
- Buildings can be constructed to withstand several minutes of shaking when an earthquake hits, but not a half an hour of shuddering.
- We save for the predicted 10 months of salary we’ll need if we are laid off but the job search has gone on for over a year.
I love foreshadowing in books and movies – the device that provides a hint of things to come. “Rosebud” in the movie Citizen Kane is only important at the end when the mystery of Charles Foster Kane is finally solved. We learn that Kane’s dying word,(Rosebud, is the name of the sled he had as a boy; the only time in his life he was truly happy in spite of his wealth and power. When the unlikely occurs, everyone suddenly points to the clues that were apparent, even though it’s possible that no one saw them as viable clues before.
Now we (not really ‘we’ – usually the talking heads on TV) will review the clues that told us this was going to happen and wonder why anyone would build a nuclear power plant near a fault line, ora coastline, or people. We’ll reivew safeety guidelines at all nuclear reactor sites no matter where they are. Emergency kits will fly off the shelves at the Red Cross and people will stock up on drinking water, flashlights, dust masks and AM/FM radios with batteries.
We can examine patterns, wonder “what if,” and focus on protection, although not everyone will want to focus on worst case scenarios (and not everyone will want to pay the upfront cost associated with preparation either). Some things are simply a surprise: 9/11, the Giant’s winning the World Series, the 1980 US Olympic Men’s Hockey team winning the gold medal, and Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl halftime reveal all seem pretty unpredictable.
Examining people’s performance allows us to guess future behavior. It’s how we interview job applicants and decide whether to stay brand loyal or shift our shopping allegiance. There are many other factors that influence future actions; experience, learning, feedback, perception, perspective, reflection – all can have some influence.
But Mother Nature operates autonomously. While weather forecasters utilize numerical forecasting and use mathematical equations to predict the weather, they still can’t always be accurate in predictions about the chances of having a white Christmas. Looking at the past can help us guess the future but it’s just a guess.
Sometimes, mothers have a mind of their own.