A lesson from the Iowa Caucuses: “I Can Tell You, We’re Ready”

by Daniel Jacobs

On Friday, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, Troy Price, went on national TV and said, “[We’re] probably the most prepared we’ve ever been as a party for these caucuses. We’ve run through a few different scenarios, but I can tell you, we’re ready.”

I was watching that interview. Immediately, I had a sinking feeling that something was about to go wrong. I’d love to claim premonition, but it was no such thing. In my leadership experience, when I’ve been absolutely certain of an outcome, things often go all cattywampus. 

Of course, that’s what happened in Iowa too.

A phone app that the party relied on to report results failed. And on a night that was supposed to be a celebration, no election results were reported. Now, two days later, still only 71 percent of results have been reported as I write. Troy probably wishes he could take those words back!

I know the feeling.

My own sporadic zeal and overconfidence - especially around issues I care deeply about - has gotten me into some messes too. It’s one of the reasons I try so hard to practice a behavior we talk about often at Avanoo: 

“Measure thrice, cut once”

It’s an old carpentry proverb. Wood and time is expensive. So measure the wood a few times before cutting. That will preserve time and materials. Similarly, in our work, it means: triple check anything before taking action.

If the Iowa Democratic Party had tested the phone app in a simulated environment, the coding error that led to the problems would have been detected. And it could have been dealt with. But key people didn’t measure thrice, cut once… 

In our businesses and our lives, we can learn from this disaster. When we’re sure about something - absolutely sure - let’s still double- and triple- check each part of the process. It may not feel necessary; but it sure beats the alternative! 

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