(Taken from management guru Jerry Harvey, who said this about 25 years ago at a Physician Executive conference I attended):

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

Back when I was in management, we had a consultant come to help us at the hospital.  After she left, the executive team discussed how the meeting went.  Everybody was positive and effusive about what the woman had done. I didn’t board the bus and spoke up.  “I wasn’t impressed,” I said.  “Every time I brought up numbers and measurement, she pooh-poohed me. You’ve got to count certain things in life, if they are important, countable, and the counts matter.”

It was as if I had breached a dam.  Virtually everybody then started to say something negative about the meeting.  They had gone from Coleman to Abilene and back, saying all was great when in fact nobody thought it was.

My wife had a similar experience when radiology residents were discussed.  Everybody said one individual was fine, until my wife said that she had reservations about the person.  Suddenly, when the room was polled again, everybody had reservations.  How does a group, who has reservations about an individual, decide that the individual is just fine?  Nobody wants to rock the boat. Nobody wants to raise an unpleasant possibility that maybe the truth lies elsewhere.

Last week, nine of us were hiking that along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River, near 3000 feet elevation south of Oakridge, Oregon.  It was an easy hike, short and would get me back to town in time for me to lead the monthly hike up Mt. Pisgah I lead every full Moon.

Right away, I was concerned about the time.  I had called the leader to ask when we would get back and whether I should even be doing the hike.  She assured me there should be no problem, that we would be back at 2:30, plenty of time to get ready for a late afternoon hike.  Even with that reassurance, I should not have gone.  I need to be completely focused on the hike I am on, not thinking about other things.

The trip was to see three separate springs that formed the headwaters of the river. The first was easy, and we then returned to a road, walked south along it, then headed towards the river.  The trail went upstream for about a mile before forking.  Here, we waited about 20 minutes as two of the group were picking mushrooms.  The leader told me she was a little annoyed at this; I could sympathize, having led 76 hikes.  The leader expects people along to follow the hiking plan.  I once had a woman taking a video of the entire Scott Trail, which put her a half hour behind the group after only three miles. I almost had to abort the hike. It’s rude and unfair to others.

We regrouped at the junction and went further upstream.  This soon became a problem, for the trail ended in a mass of blowdowns.  Two of us looked for other routes, but there weren’t any.  In the meantime, the easy hike, where I could give my sore elbow a rest, suddenly wasn’t.  I was climbing  up on 24 inch diameter blowdowns, wet and slippery, trying to navigate well above the ground, where sharp branches were plentiful.  A slip would have made more than my elbow painful.

A few minutes later, others found a way—no trail, only a way— to the base of a steep muddy grade, leading to the other trail, well above us.

I muttered sotto voce that this was dangerous.  I didn’t want to do it, and I was one of the strongest hikers in the group.  Others just kept going.  So, I went along, too, but reluctantly.  I figured I could get up the muddy slope, although if anybody above me fell, I would be going down as well.  It was a nasty climb up about 75 meters, and more than once, I found myself in an area where I had to think for some time what I was going to do next.  Finally, I took a chance of sorts, where there was a decent probability I would make it, and I did.  Everybody else did, too, but just because we all made it safely didn’t make it a safe route.  It wasn’t.  If we had done this 10 times, somebody would have fallen, and a fall here would have been bad.

I was upset with myself.  I should have suggested we turn around and take the other route.  I wasn’t the leader, but the leader probably would have agreed.  I should have told her later, in private, that we should not have done what we did.  Additionally, I should have added that she scout trips before leading them, to know where the trail is and isn’t. That doesn’t rule out a blowdown that occurs before the hike, but the blowdowns we encountered had been there for years.  Every trip I lead I have hiked at one time or another, learning in advance about route finding difficulties, significant snow, or a change the map didn’t show.

We never did see the headwaters.  Afterwards, everybody in the group, sans me, thought it was a great hike. Nobody, and there were some people on the hike I respect, said anything about the danger.  Had we done what I suggested, we would have been safe, we would have had time to get to the spring, and we would not have been pushed to get back to town as quickly as we later did.  We made a bad decision, and nobody, including me, spoke up about it.  Had we had a hiker who signed up for this “Easy” hike, they would have been far over their ability.

I was annoyed with myself. While the Obsidians do have bus trips, Abilene has never been a planned destination.


The top of the hill.  Note the angles of the trees, looking down through dense brush to the bottom.



What passed for the spring that began the Middle Fork.


The road referred to was behind us.



One of the branches of the upper Middle Fork

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