Oz's Business Continuity Blog 

Practice makes perfect

In recent months I’ve rediscovered the Telegraph crossword – that’s the daily cryptic crossword, not the fiendishly difficult “Toughie” which is just impossible for a mere mortal like me.

I used to do the Telegraph crossword years ago, after my mother-in-law got me into it (one of the two things for which she is to be applauded – the other being her daughter, obviously). Whilst I wouldn’t claim to be an expert, I did go from not having the faintest idea what most of the clues meant to the point where I managed to finish it more often than not. But for one reason or another I stopped doing it and, until recently, I hadn’t had a go for donkey’s years.

When I started doing it again, I have to admit that I was absolutely useless, sometimes struggling to do more than half a dozen clues. The thing is, there’s a knack to doing crosswords and if you get out of the habit it can take a while to get that knack back again. Anyway, I persevered and, slowly but surely it’s coming back to me.

There are three things that have helped enormously :

Firstly, practice – seven crosswords a week provides an opportunity for lots of practice. Sadly I don’t have time to do it every day, but I usually manage two or three a week.

Secondly, I came across a website called “Big Dave’s Crossword Blog” (www.bigdave44.com) which gives the answers. More importantly though, it explains how those answers are arrived at. So for the clues I’ve struggled with (and sometimes there are lots), rather than just giving it up as a bad job, I have a quick look on Big Dave’s site and find out what they were on about.

And thirdly, I’ve put together my own little guide, which includes things like what certain words or phrases in a clue might mean, and what words might be anagram or “sounds like” indicators or such like. I refer to it when I’m a bit stuck and it often nudges me in the right direction.  (Post a reply if you’d like a copy).

I still don’t finish the crossword every day (there are some really obscure clues from time to time that you’d have to be Einstein or Stephen Fry to stand a chance of solving), but I don’t do too badly now. I still have to think quite hard about things, but the basics are becoming ingrained and now when I pick up the crossword, I slip reasonably easily into the right way of thinking. I’ve progressed from seldom completing it, through occasionally to fairly regularly, and now I’m setting my sites on the dizzy heights of usually. 

The point is that crosswords, as with many things in life – like juggling or playing a musical instrument or crisis management or business or IT recovery for instance – take practice if you want to be any good at them. And for most people, the more practice they get, the more proficient they become. Or to put it another way, the less you practice, the less proficient you’ll be.

So if we want our crisis management or recovery teams to be proficient and effective, we need to make sure they’re up to the job, adequately trained and get sufficient practice to keep them on top form.

And on that note, given that the kettle’s boiled and the paper’s just arrived, I’m off to get some more practice in myself.



One response to “Practice makes perfect”

  1. Hi Andy

    Really like your analogy of a crossword puzzle. Unlike you, i have tried to complete one and as of today i haven’t managed to complete one, but a sudoku. The idea that you have put together your own little guide, which includes things like what certain words or phrases in a clue might mean, and what words might be anagram or “sounds like” indicators or such like resonates well with crisis management.

    In my opinion, crisis management is all about being able to identify those flashing lights indicating danger ahead. But then so often, as crisis management teams, we always wait for that grand crisis to occur and then try figure the way out. The same with a crossword puzzle, there is the beginners, the intermediate and the difficult level. Unless you are Enstein, you are not going to work up one day and “bang” finish up the difficult level. A big fire always starts small. Same as a crisis, being able to identify those lead indicators from early stages will always minimise the damage. This involves testing systems to ensure they are still operational and also stress testing assumptions.

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