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Maintaining flexibility and adapting your plans in the face of challenges
This HBR article from 2011 touted Adaptability is the new competitive advantage. More than a decade later, Adaptability has become a must have skill - table stakes in everything you do. It’s no longer about whether you can adapt, the rule of the game now is how fast you can adapt.
In today's rapidly changing business environment, characterized by globalization, new technologies, and increased transparency, traditional approaches to strategy are no longer effective. The unpredictability of the world requires a new approach, one that focuses on organizational capabilities that enable quick adaptation.
Successful companies are those that can quickly identify and respond to changes in the market. They have mastered the art of rapid experimentation, not just with their products and services, but also with their business models, processes, and strategies. These companies have developed the skills to effectively manage complex systems involving multiple stakeholders, and have unlocked the potential of their greatest asset - their employees.
On Fragility of Plans
“No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Chief of Staff of the Prussian army
The fragility of plans is a common theme in military strategy and is also applicable to other situations. The quotes suggest that while having a plan is important, it is often unrealistic to expect that plan to survive unchanged once put into action. The best approach is to be flexible and adaptable, relying on real-time intelligence and coordination with team members to execute a plan effectively. The idea is that planning is still essential, but plans themselves can quickly become obsolete and irrelevant.
“So, though you are told that the best plan wins, the reality is quite different. Many plans, particularly those created in large organizations, are overly generalized, quickly obsolete, and frustrating to those asked to execute them. It’s far better to coordinate your team’s efforts in real time, relying heavily on the informed, detailed intelligence of each unique team member.” ~ Nine Lies About Work
This fragility can be attributed to a number of factors. For one, the future is inherently unpredictable and beyond our control. No matter how much research, preparation, or planning we do, unforeseen events and circumstances can arise that can completely alter the course of our plans. Additionally, human error and miscommunication can also play a role in the fragility of plans, leading to misunderstandings and missed opportunities.
Instead of recounting experiences from my professional background to showcase my experience with rapidly changing plans and how I handled them (and there are plenty), I will share a couple of anecdotes from my filmmaking hobby.
Douce France, Americaan Courthouse
The production of my first short film, Americaan Courthouse, was filled with unexpected twists and turns. The film revolved around a Bengali immigrant woman who receives a traffic ticket, and one pivotal scene (at 2:55 mark) was set to be filmed at a cafe. Initially, Starbucks declined our request due to potential reputation risks, but I was able to secure a location at a charming French cafe called Douce France through a friendship with the owner. He suggested, “Well, come down Saturday afternoon. We don’t have many customers during that time. You can take a couple of hours to shoot your scene in our Cafe. And yeah, hope you all will be ordering!” In preparation for this scene, in addition to table reading, and rehearsing the scene, I took my light and sound crew to the Cafe a week before to fully map out the placements for each of our lights, sound equipment, and the camera around the indoor coffee table.
Saturday, the afternoon of the shoot, turned out to be cloudy and chilly, and guess what, everybody wanted to enjoy this weather with a cup of their favorite espresso drink! When we reached the Cafe with our crew and equipment the Cafe was buzzing with the customers. The owner kindly suggested we shoot our scene at an outdoor coffee table. In that single moment, all our planning went out of the window. We were not calibrated for an outdoor environment where it’s subject to noise (parking lot, people, and planes!) and continuously changing lighting (the scene took 4 hours to shoot and it became chillier and darker outside). This was the last scene to be shot for the film, and I had lined up the post-production schedule leaving no room for changes. It was now OR never! I had a quick huddle with the team and we improvised - quickly came up with a new storyboard that was flexible with camera locations (as we had to constantly change for lighting and customer considerations), all actors were asked to speak their dialogs aloud (to eliminate outdoor noise in post-processing while not losing the dialog), and finally took breaks to warm up in between the cuts (the scene was to be shot with warm weather clothing, but it was so chilly we couldn’t shoot for longer than a few minutes before people started shivering!). And to top it all, and this is not my proudest performance, I had to sub for an actor who decided to cancel on us at the very last minute.
The Garage, The Anagram
The Anagram, is a psychological thriller, depicting an intense conflict between patient (Kaleb) and doctor (Jen) while Blake (victim) is held at gunpoint. The gunpoint sequence was to be shot in a garage, and I secured a two-car garage from a friend. With my second short film I wanted to drive technical improvements in cinematography and sound quality. I experimented with lighting several times before the day of the shoot until I got it right. This required placing 6 lights almost in a hexagonal fashion around the standoff scene - to capture each emotion and change in expression. To showcase tension, a grid of microphones was suspended from various points in the garage ceiling to capture each breath in the scene.
On Sunday, ready for the shoot, actors and crew with instructions in hand, I arrived at my friend's house at 8am. My friend took her car out after being awoken by a few knocks on the door, but her husband's car was still inside, its keys missing from a late night party the night before. My friend politely suggested that AAA was not an option and that I was to make do with half the garage. And just like that, we got back to the drawing board. We spent a solid 1-hour reworking our plans, and resting our lighting and sound equipment at their new locations. The actors now had to be comfortable with cameras, bright lights and an extensive crew pretty much right in their face. I’m proud to say the way the final scene turned out, it doesn’t even feel like we had this massive setback on the day of the shoot.
Both these filmmaking experiences reinforced the importance of being flexible and adaptable in the face of unexpected obstacles, as well as the power of perseverance and teamwork in overcoming challenges and producing high-quality results.