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Forward motion

This is one in a series of tales and unexpected lessons in business, leadership and/or life. It involves our 1991 Ford 350 Econoline van named Big Bertha and provocations including but not limited to luck, karma, oversights and auto mechanics.

Two people faced with the same problem will, almost without exception, find different ways of solving it. A recent road trip in faithfully unfaithful Big Bertha not only reinforced this truism but delivered not one but two important lessons in business, leadership and life.

Art festivals are not for the wimpy or the weak, and since I am both, my husband Brian is by my side at nearly every show. Setting up and breaking down a 10′ x 10′ tent involves copious lifting, carrying, hoisting and hauling in unpredictable weather conditions over terrain that can be full of surprises. Getting there and back in Big Bertha can be, too.

Fortunately for me, Brian volunteers to drive, including the day we headed south on I-35 to charming Wimberley, Texas for their annual art festival. The weather was warm and clear, the traffic was light, and as we passed through Austin we sounded just like our dads when we said, “Gosh, honey, we’re sure making good time.”

Then: Kuh-LUNK LUNK LUNK.

First, let me give you the hypothetical play-by-play if I had been driving:

  1. Me: “What the… ?”
  2. I look in the rear view mirror to see the dead buffalo in the road.
  3. I tap the gas to put distance between us and the buffalo in case he’s still alive and angry.
  4. There’s no acceleration.
  5. Again, I step on the gas. It makes all the right sounds but we’re not picking up speed.
  6. After trying this a couple more times, it dawns on me. The thingy is broken. And we’re only moving forward because we’re coasting at 65 MPH.
  7. After scanning the horizon, I notice that there’s an overpass up ahead. That’s out of the sun, I reason, so it’s a good place to stop and wait for a tow truck (later I’m told how dangerous it can be to park in the shoulder under a bridge).
  8. I tap the brakes — I know they work because we replaced them just six months prior — and decelerate Bertha to her final resting place.

This is what really happened:

  1. Brian: “What the… ?”
  2. He taps the gas.
  3. Brian: “We just lost the transmission.”
  4. After scanning the horizon, Brian notices that just beyond an upcoming overpass, there’s an exit ramp to our right that slopes down onto a three lane access road.
  5. He glides Bertha to the ramp where she picks up speed on the decline. Light traffic on the access road allows Brian to guide Bertha into an Enterprise Rent-a-Car dealership, landing her neatly at the back of their parking lot.

Same problem. Completely different solutions.

In these scenarios and in every case, solutions are driven by the perception of the problem. To me, we were in a speeding bullet that must be stopped before it hurt someone. To Brian, who is a trained pilot, our plane had merely become a glider.

That’s the first moral of the story: before attempting to solve any problem, seek multiple perspectives. If you can’t see them clearly by yourself, ask your co-pilots.

Moral of the Story #2: No matter what, keep going. When problems inevitably occur, coast a little if you have to, take a detour, get some roadside assistance. But when you know you’re heading in the right direction, be sure you’ve exhausted all other options before executing a full stop.

In case you’re wondering, yes, we made it in time to set up and participate in the festival that weekend. We rented a box truck, towed Bertha to a transmission repair shop, the mechanics fell in love with her, and she’s back on the road again.

This story was originally published on September 22, 2016.