We have had our first REAL snow fall here in Spokane this winter – being in the initial stage of a “moderate drought” does put you behind.  It’s welcome news for ski resorts and water managers and brings the usual chorus of gripes about shoveling and cold and many, thankfully mostly minor, traffic accidents – it seems everyone has to learn how to drive in the snow all over again.

Driving in snow requires a different skill set that driving in dry or night conditions.  The biggest difference is that the snow compacts, melts, and refreezes, causing ice to form on the roads.  And with ice you have loss of traction which means that steering and stopping are not always under your control.

Nevertheless, you still have people who think they can drive at or above the speed limit because they 

(1) have SUVs; 
(2) four-wheel drive; 
(3) superior skill; 
(4) are in a hurry; or 
(5) believe bad things happen only to other people.  

Without fail, these people also complain about the others on the road who are driving too slow and cramping their style. I can drive 60 MPH on the interstate in the snow and I’ve been doing it for years! these drivers insist. Why can’t these other idiots get it above 30? %&#!! Californians… 

Believe me, the ice is not impressed with any of their reasons

Meredith shares this story:

When I was 16, the D.C. area got it’s first big snowfall in years – about 2 feet. That city shuts down for 1/4 inch – so two feet of powder transformed it into a wasteland. In the midst of this, my father handed me the car keys and informed me that we were going to Home Depot to get some screws for a project. I thought he was crazy – but he insisted I learn how to drive in snow. So we piled into the itty bitty red Elantra and I tried to maneuver my way out of our subdivision. 

As we hit the deserted main roads, I started thinking “All right! I’ve got this! Driving in the snow isn’t so bad!” and let my speed increase. When the car reached 35 MPH, Dad  said calmly “Great. Now, I want you to slam on the brakes.”  

“Are you crazy?” I said (yeah… I was a docile, obedient kind of child – in a not at all kind of way). “We’ll slide into a snow bank.” 

“Slam on the brakes,” he repeated. “Someday, someone is going to do something dumb and you’re going to have to brake to avoid hitting them. You need to know what it’s like to slide. It’s ok. I’m right here. Just keep steering.” 

So I slammed on the brakes. We fishtailed and spun for a terrifying 5 seconds before sliding to a stop. It seemed huge to me – but I recognize now how really tame the situation was. 

While I recovered, he explained, “You’re going to hit ice when you drive. You can’t anticipate it, and it only takes a square foot of ice to send you into a ditch. Ice doesn’t care if you’ve never had a ticket. It doesn’t care how confident you are. Confidence doesn’t give your tires more traction. You can’t control the ice or the other drivers, so you have to learn to control yourself and balance speed and skill with risk. Now take a breath, and let’s do it again.”   

Why am I talking about driving in snow on a crisis management blog? Because the same mentality that causes people to drive like idiots in snow causes people to destroy good businesses.  It’s the same mentality that described one accident as being caused by “the person kept dodging until I had to hit them.”

It’s the denial of responsibility for the consequences.

I sat through a meeting last week where a CEO and CTO tried to explain the demise of a corporation’s business prospects to their investors.  They spent nearly two hours insisting that their failure was caused by the investors filing a lawsuit against them that scared away buyers, the unethical behavior of their potential buyer, and the internal politics of the customer organization.  Never an acknowledgement that the CEO’s mismanagement of funds had forced the investors to file the lawsuit in the first place, or how the CTO’s inability to deliver product on a timely basis. And certainly no acknowledgement of how their irresponsible behaviors outside of business had forced their associates to abandoned once favored relationships. 

In the last two years, they’d stolen money from the company, lied about their product, tried to bribe a board member, destroyed personal relationships, ruined their reputations, and acquired six figures in personal debts trying to cover up their mistakes.  During the meeting, they seemed bewildered – insisting that they really believed they could sell the product and “make everything right again.” Their product was a slam dunk that should have succeeded – but it wasn’t good enough to make the consequences of their reckless behavior go away. 

Indeed, the CEO and CTO were speeding through the snow unconcerned with what they were doing to others, never considering the consequences if something went wrong –  even denying the specific warnings from shareholders that things WOULD go wrong.  They were weaving in an out of traffic, certain they’d get to their destination as they planned and as they envisioned – only to hit the ice patch of reality and ending up in the ditch.

The moral of the story?  Driving slow sometimes is the only way to arrive alive.

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A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.