Few things end as we expect. This is the lesson of the huge cost overruns that have become a way of life in our Department of Defense. Sophisticated and ambitious plans are drafted, limited numbers of production experts make bids on the plans, bids are awarded to one of the few competitors, greater than expected difficulties in production are encountered, additional intricate specifications are added to the original design, and cost overruns escalate. No end is in sight for such costly miscalculations, and the tendencies remain in human character as well.
Too many factors must be considered in most of our decision-making. We want to stop thinking about it and just make a decision. Consider the choice of a mate. A million qualifications could be appropriate. The chances for error are large. Success in marriage becomes a daunting prospect, and people are generally waiting longer to decide.
I worked for a church that spent sixty years trying to eliminate pigeons from nesting on top of the belfry. The flat belfry roof provided an excellent roosting place. Pigeon guano piled up and had to be removed every six months. Church attenders had to duck the droppings of pigeons as they flew in for a landing. Rainwater leaching through the manure digested the roof shingles and corroded the drain pipes. They tried many solutions. Many solutions! Finally they built a steeply sloped pyramid roof on top of the belfry. Pyramid power. No more pigeons.
The same church had an embossed metal ceiling in its sanctuary which had been painted a dozen times in eighty years, until paint would no longer adhere to the metal, but kept peeling off and falling on the congregation in large patches. Talk about the roof falling in when someone comes to church! Ideas were abundant. Cover it with acoustical tile? That would ruin the acoustics of the room and look drab in due time. Sandblast the paint off the metal? That would condemn the building to sandy surfaces and paint fragments for generations. Finally they checked to see what was underneath the metal. A beautiful carved wooden ceiling, dirty but paintable, hid under the metal. Removing the metal left a result that was both cheaper and more attractive than any of the alternatives considered. We cannot always be so fortunate.
When making plans or watching other people’s plans unfold, what do we need to do? Take as many facts into consideration as we can. Test as many assumptions as we can. Be prepared to change course when either facts or assumptions prove inadequate. One way or another they will be.