When Facing a Whale of a Problem

When Facing a Whale of a Problem

In the Northwest, we are reminded yearly about how to NOT deal with whales on beaches. November 12 marks an anniversary that Oregon Coast natives don’t forget too often. Paul Linnman, a local news anchor, became a respected and seasoned newscaster after this story, fully immersing himself in all that was a “whale of a problem.”

For those that don’t know, in 1970 in the sleepy coastal town of Florence, Oregon (now widely revered for its sand dunes that draw sand riding enthusiasts from all over) found themselves in the middle of a major problem. A sperm whale, that was deceased upon arrival, settled its massive 8-ton girth deeply into the sands of the beach. Measuring out at 45 feet long and starting to decay on the coastal waters, the city wasn’t sure how to deal with the issue.

Oregon beaches are all considered public park access and at the time they were managed by the Department of Transportation, Highway. So what do you do with an 8-ton obstacle when you’re trained and skilled to create roads? I think I’ll let the video explain the rest:

As I laugh at this story and use the magic of 20/20 Hind Sight to see the horror coming I also find myself wondering: “What am I doing today, dealing with the big issues in front of me, that don’t need that much power to get rid of?” Frankly, we have to ask: Do we have the right tools to deal with the issues? Are we willing to do the hard work?

Having been born in 1980 and growing up on the Oregon beaches this story has been in my local lore forever. But something new caught my attention watching it again this year. Paul mentions early in the segment about how they were trying to figure out what to do with the whale carcass and he says, “…it couldn’t be cut up because no one wanted to cut it up…” (36-second mark). Hmmm…no one wanted to do the stinky, dirty, close up work to take care of the issue. The work that is dreadful and disgusting (analogy here), the work that they ultimately had to do anyway because the easy way didn’t work out.

And that’s the lesson: How many times do I try to take the easy way through an issue only to not be able to fix the problem at all and still have to go back and do the hard work, which is basically doubly hard because I failed the first time.

Sometimes the quickest way through a problem is directly through the problem. We are tempted to use dynamite and blow up the issue into many small pieces in the hopes that nature will clean up the mess, that by making it smaller it will just go away on its own. In all the grossness of the situation, the complexity, and mire of the difficulty at hand, the best use of everyone’s time is just to face it head on and deal with it…blubber and all.

So next time you are faced with a whale-sized problem in your organization remember Florence, Oregon in 1970. Remember that you don’t want to be on the news with falling whale bits coming down around you. Better to just suck it up and get to the dirty work of facing the issue at hand than trying to blow it up hoping that nature will take care of it.

Some interesting source material can be found at The Exploding Whale site.

 

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