AARs and Learning from Your Mistakes

In the military, AARs, or After Action Reviews, are an integral part of learning about your operations and improving the performance of your unit or team.  Unfortunately, the AAR process takes a long time, and sometimes it can be painful.  This past week, on one of my training paddles, I lost my phone in 12 feet of bay water.  Luckily, after an extensive search operation, we found the phone.  However, this was not the first time that I had lost a phone in the ocean.  The last time was a couple of years back when my phone, complete with lanyard and floating device, was ripped off my vest in the surf while I volunteered as a lifeguard during a local triathlon race.  The After Action Review is designed to stop something like this from happening again.  So here is how the process works.  First you list what went wrong.  Then you list what went right.  Then you capture any lessons that need to be learned for next time.  Let's give it a shot here:

What went wrong:

1.  Lost phone

2 No flotation device.

3. Old pocket on vest could not hold phone.

4. Lanyard failed because of poor quality and the fact that it got wet from the saltwater

What went right:

1. Case held up to over 2 hours of submersion at 12 feet of saltwater

2. Search and recovery methodology still works (conducted a circle search for lost object)

3. Marked the position as soon as phone fell into the water and returned with proper equipment to conduct recovery

Lessons Learned:

The lessons learned here are numerous.  The fact that this is the second time that this has happened to me in less than two years is a red flag.  AARs are designed so that you do not make the same mistakes again.  Perhaps a more thorough AAR should have been conducted the first time that I lost a phone.  Because as you will soon see, had I implemented the lessons learned from the first event, the second event would never have happened.  In the first event, I had a float and faulty lanyard.   I lost the phone because the lanyard broke rendering the float useless.  However, in the second event, the lanyard detached itself from my vest but I did not have a float.  had I integrated the lessons learned from the first event, I would have had a float on my phone during the second event and the phone would have floated.  So the lesson learned here is to have two points of failure when you have a phone with you while paddling.  The first one is a strong lanyard and the second is a floating mechanism.  That way, you are assured that even if the lanyard breaks away from your vest, you will still have a floating phone.  

Now I did not go through this process to teach you about a phone.  I want to showcase the process (and a powerful one it is) of the AAR.  You can imagine that with a more complicated operation, such as a relationship with a spouse or a business deal, the AARs will be more complex and more useful.  When the stakes are higher, the AAR becomes essential.  When the stakes involve life and death situations, the AAR becomes critical.  Every time we would jump out of an airplane, we would do an AAR upon hitting the ground.  What went wrong?  What went right?  What lessons did you learn from the jump?  

This week, go through an event in your work or home and conduct an AAR on your own.  Take as much detail with it as you wish.  The more detailed the AAR and the more time you put into it, the more your process will improve the next time you go through the same event, or even a similar event.  

Trust the process and you will see how your performance will improve.

Lean into it!

Dr. N

P.S.  For a discussion about this week's post, click here.