The Go Point-the moment of truth when you have to say "yes" or "no" when it's time to get off the fence. Michael Useem-through dramatic storytelling-shows how to master the art and science of being decisive. He places you smack in the middle of people facing their go point, where actions-or lack of them-determined the fates of individuals, companies, and countries. - Why on earth did Robert E. Lee send General George Pickett on an almost suicidal charge against the Union lines at Gettysburg - How does the leader of a firefighting crew make life-or-death decisions, directing his people-with little information about weather patterns to guide him-to go up or down the mountain One direction means safety, the other danger. - You've just assumed responsibility for a scandal-wracked corporation, a company teetering on the brink of disaster. What you decide over the course of the next several days will have consequences for thousands of employees and investors. How do you fulfill your responsibilities Michael Useem makes you feel as if "you are there," right in the center of the action.
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October 02, 2006
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Excerpt from The Go Point by Michael Useem
At 4 p.m. on August 5, 1949, Wagner Dodge and his crew of sixteen parachuted into the remote Montana wilderness at Mann Gulch to combat what seemed to be a routine forest fire. By 5:56 p.m., all but three of the firefighters were dead, fatally burned then the worst disaster in the history of the U.S. Forest Service and one caught memorably by Norman Maclean in Young Men and Fire.
Forty-five years later, on July 6, 1994, Donald Mackey was helping to oversee a team of forty-nine firefighters spread out on Storm King Mountain in Colorado. Some of the group had parachuted onto the mountain that day; others had come by helicopter, still others by foot. Again, it looked like a routine fire, and again, the fire proved that it is always a mistake to treat any backcountry blaze as routine. By four o'clock in the afternoon of July 6, the Mann Gulch disaster seemed about to repeat itself.
In both cases, bad luck and a fatal confluence of environmental factors contributed to the flaming ambush of the firefighters, but individual decisions were critical in each instance. At Mann Gulch as at Storm King, those most directly responsible on site faced a sequence of decision points during their fateful hours in the fire zone, and their decisions at those moments helped take their teams to the brink of disaster and beyond.
Wildland fires are a special circumstance, and wildland firefighters the men and women who parachute, helicopter, or trek in to fight them a special breed. But while the conditions are unique, the experience of those who fight fires in the outdoors has much to teach us all about decision making indoors, especially when there is little room for error or delay. The go points their crew leaders reach and the consequences that follow are unusually clear-cut and consequential for the goals of the enterprise. And like so many critical business decisions, fire decisions brutally punish those who do not keep both the big picture and small detail well in mind.
The blaze that raged over Colorado's Storm King Mountain on July 5 and 6, 1994, in what has come to be known as the South Canyon fire, has been the subject of extensive official study and secondary analysis, including one by Norman Maclean's son, John, who chronicled the fire's course and the efforts to combat it in Fire on the Mountain. Thus, we have an exceptionally well-documented record of the decisions taken by those responsible for the firefighters on the mountain.
In analyzing the record, I do not seek to criticize anyone involved or to affix blame for the disaster that occurred on any one individual. Whether they survived the blaze or not, the wildland firefighters who assembled on Storm King Mountain were heroes: they placed themselves in harm's way to protect others, and some paid the ultimate price. But firefighters also feel it is their duty to unflinchingly examine past tragedies to determine what decisions went wrong so they can prevent similar calamities in the future. In that spirit and from their bravery come enduring lessons in the art and science of decision making whatever the zone.