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Senior Correspondent

PBS recently featured a fascinating program highlighting the history of man and horse entitled "Horsepower." The program follows British actor Martin Clunes ("Doc Martin") who travels the world to explore how man and horse first got together, unlocking clues to this most powerful ancient partnership.

This particular film follows Martin as he puts Ronnie and Bruce, his beloved Clydesdale youngsters, through "hoof camp" to teach them to become workhorses. While Ronnie and Bruce are training, Martin visits the U.S., where he meets the celebrated Budweiser Clydesdales. As he takes the reins of the spectacular horses and wagon, they parade through the streets of New Orleans with thousands of adoring fans cheering them on.

Martin then travels to an Amish community in Indiana for a dose of reality. There he gains a farming perspective for the role of working horses. Martin quickly discovers how much human strength it takes to manage a team of powerful workhorses, speculating on the dire consequences of a team of horses running amuck.

That got me to thinking about the ancient proverb that goes something like this: "Thou shalt not get the cart before the horse, or bad stuff will surely flow downhill." Apparently a cart is meant to follow a horse 100 percent of the time. No exceptions. Much like the law of gravity, when we fail to respect the natural order of things … well, you know.

Unlike actual carts and horses, it is not always obvious in our day-to-day work when we get things out of sequence. For example, we may rush to a solution before we have even defined the problem or possibly make a decision before clarifying the desired outcome. We may choose to hire someone before thoroughly defining the job requirements. Or perhaps make a snap decision about someone we have just met.

On a personal level, we may worry about something tomorrow when today is still revealing itself. 
I recently facilitated a complex decision-making process involving a number of extremely experienced, talented and committed professionals. They very much needed to make good decisions about issues related to succession planning and be in consensus at the end. As we worked through the decision-making sequence, someone would invariably bring up an aspect of the decision that could only be reached down the road after other decisions were made. This would lead to a kind of circular conversation that was unresolvable in the moment. As rabbits were chased down holes, sucking time and energy in with them, I finally had a brilliant flash of the obvious.

I would simply call above the fray, "This sounds like another cart before horse conversation." Jolted by the truth, the team's frustration and fatigue quickly melted into smiles and positive energy. Their attention returned to the decision at hand, and progress was indeed made one single decision after another. It didn't take long for the group to notice this for themselves. Someone would call out, "Cart before horse," and they would get back on track. I love my job!

"A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It's jolted by every pebble on the road." — Henry Ward Beecher

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