The film Zero Dark Thirty recounts a semi-fictionalized version of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Though some of the characters may have been composites of real people, the film highlights a key dilemma that any leader, and that includes those of us working in life insurance or annuities, faces: Crossing the gap between having intelligence on an opportunity and actually acting on it.
In the film, an operative whose fulltime directive is to locate Bin Laden identifies his location and day, after day, after day, pushes her superiors to act on the intelligence. She has the evidence. She has the proof. And they need to strike before the window closes.
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The dilemma, from a leadership perspective, is not a new one. No level of research or planning can guarantee that an action delivers the result you want. Yes, making the move to capture Bin Laden comes with potentially huge rewards, but the risk of getting it wrong breeds hesitation. The reward that comes with getting it right is substantial, and you have enough information to justify an action, but no matter what there is still an element of the unknown between your plan and your goal.
Whether it’s a military operation or a new marketing idea, you can never escape the possibility of failure. A “sure thing” does not exist. If you jump, you might miss. Then again, you might also make it through the window of opportunity. If you decide not to jump, and instead debate and argue over when is the right time to jump, you miss by default. The window will close whether or not you act.
In the case of Zero Dark Thirty, it took consistent pressure and pushing from a few key people to inspire action, to launch the mission that took down the most wanted man in the world. It was not a guaranteed win. They might have got it wrong. But they didn’t. They got it right.