Oops to Aha! Turn tragedy to treasure.

Map out the mistakes of the past and don’t go there again.

Identify warning signs

The little white cross was just peeking from the top of the grass on the road side. It was a two lane road with no shoulder.

Darkness like a cave filled everything beyond the glow of my headlight. As I topped the hill I felt that rush and sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Like when you free fall from the top of the roller coaster. I saw the red glow of brake lights in front of me. They were closing in fast. I locked up my brakes and slid to a stop.

As I stopped I saw a strange flashing in front of me. The van whose brake lights caused me to slide to a stop, sat like a giant in the lane in front of me. Just off to the left side, I saw what looked like a strobe light. After a moment I realized it was a car, whose lights were being hidden then exposed briefly. Here on this dark road, the crossing arms hidden from my view by the hulking van, a freight train camouflaged by rust, clacked away into the night.

My mind went back to the little cross on the other side of the hill. Could that be the memory of someone who like this van had turned off the engine and lights to wait for what seemed like eternity for the train to pass?

I watched the train with one eye and my rear view mirror with the other. It would have been tragic to rear end that van or hit that passing train at highway speed on the downside of a blind hill. But as I sat there on my motorcycle I had to wonder what vehicle will top that hill next? Will they see me? Can they stop in time? Will I be the next white cross on the side of the road?

Have you seen the number of crosses and memorials that line the roadway? When you see a cross, look around for skid marks. Most people do not lock up their brakes for fun. If they skidded to a stop there, it was to avoid a tragedy or hazard like road damage or a dangerous intersection. Those crosses indicate that someone lost their life on that spot. If you can learn from that marker as a warning sign and act with caution, that memorial becomes like a treasure map.

If a smart man learns from his own mistakes and a wise man learns from the mistakes of others, what have you learned from Enron? What have you learned from previous positions at work? From your peers? From your company leadership? From your friends and family? Will you continue to repeat the mistakes of the past? It is time to get real and honest about undesirable outcomes, to own them and overcome them and in some cases prevent them from happening all together.

If you understand what the signs are telling you and you act on them, you can avoid many pitfalls that have wrecked the path of those before you. Like skid marks on the highway, a job well done will often leave notable signs as well.

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