Word Count: 511  |  Time to Read: 2 minutes  |  JANUARY 2013
Can You See Your Dry Docks?
While I am no fan of war, I find that war stories often tell important truths. This is a story about Pearl Harbor and the dangers of fixation.

FDR appointed Admiral Chester Nimitz Commander of the Pacific Theater on the evening of the December 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor.  On Christmas Eve 1941, he arrived at Pearl Harbor amidst a mood of despair and defeat thanks to the damage inflicted in the attack. After a tour of the devastation Nimitz was asked for his reaction. 

To the surprise of everyone within earshot Nimitz responded, "The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could have ever made."

Mistake #1:  The Japanese attacked on a Sunday morninwhen most sailors were on shore, saving them from the violence. Additionally, the ships were in port rather than in deep water. Consequently, casualties were a tenth of what they could have been and the ships were fortunately sunk in shallow water.

Mistake #2:  The Japanese were so focused on sinking Pearl Harbor's American fleet, they ignored the dry docks and repair facilities literally yards away.

Mistake #3: Literally every gallon of fuel in the Pacific Theatre, stored in tanks five miles from Pearl Harbor, were never touched in the attack. One fighter could have easily destroyed the entire supply. 

While the loss of life and devastation was terrible, the Navy was left with repair facilities, manpower to staff them, damaged ships in shallow water, and the fuel needed to power the ships once they were repaired.

History tells the story of how the American Navy rebounded quickly and six months later had re-established naval superiority in the Pacific.

I find this to be a cautionary tale about fixation.

Japanese leaders were so fixated on destroying American warships they missed important decisions about the timing and focus of their attack. Fixating primarily on battleships, they could not see the dry docks, fuel dumps, or manpower.

In the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the Americans suffered a different type of fixation. They were so fixated on the awful loss of lives and ships, they missed seeing the dry docks and the capacity to recover quickly from tragedy and disaster.

How often this happens to us! We seize up, focused on an objective with such intensity that we miss a larger context.  Or we suffer a failure so great that it blinds us to our many remaining resources.

The perils of fixation are easy to see with perfect 20/20 hindsight. But they are devilishly difficult to manage in realtime.

At the core of fixation are two fundamental truths: 
1) We tend to hold on very tightly to what we want, and;
2) We have great difficulty in accepting failure, disaster and tragedy. 

As a result, our ability to clearly see the situation is so clouded that we miss the obvious. We cannot see the dry docks right next to the battleships.

Relaxing the grasp of fixation is a life's work.  

It starts with holding our goals more lightly and developing the courage to fully accept our failures and disasters as they are.  This allows us to see the larger context, the dry dock that exists in every plan for the future, or each failure from the past.


*This story come from an internet posting "Pearl Harbor - What God Did That Day" sent to me by a college friend. Apparently it quotes Nimitz's out of print book "Reflections on Pearly Harbor."