The above image is a screen gab of the seat map on a United flight from Newark, NJ to Milan, Italy in early March. I had a ticket and a season of cross-country ski racing and training in preparation for the World Master Cup in Cogne, Italy. Only a few days before the flight, the organizing committee cancelled the event in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the Lombardy region of Italy. The United flight departed and flew the route, despite having less than fifty passengers on board.
The organizing committee made the best decision, despite the economic and emotional hit to the local community. During the planned week of racing, the restrictions of travel grew increasingly prohibitive, and eventually even leaving Italy would have been close to impossible.
For a period of time, the decision-making of the organizing committee and the representatives for the nations with participating athletes centered around the economic impact. Deposits had been made, vendors secured, hours of labor invested into the events creation. Once the tide turned and the local government began mandating closures, the human element became the highest priority.
It is easy to use numbers, timelines, financial impact, hours committed to a project as justification for proceeding. The challenge is to remember why we are doing what we are doing. The ability to frame our work around an essential question. In hindsight, the decision to cancel a week of ski races was the only decision. In real-time, the facts and figures manufactured disorientation and misalignment with the true purpose of the event.
Sometimes the flight goes on without you but the best decision is not getting on board. If we orient ourselves to the purpose of the trip, it is easier to step aside an evaluate our choices instead of being swept forward by the boarding process.