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10. “How can you be so cold-blooded?”

The question completely blindsided me. I don’t think of myself as cold-blooded at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. So I asked why he asked me that. It turned out that he was more referring to lack of panic than to lack of emotion. Thinking back on the story I’d told the evening before, it made a certain kind of sense.

I had told a story of an outrageous pulling-it-out-of-your-ass-and-getting-away-with-it situation, that involved a job almost gone bad almost ten years ago.

A mysterious mail

Not one to be stopped by such petty problems as having no clue whatsoever to what was going on, I called Jacob and Peter — two of my freelancers — and hired them for the day after, and then went to sleep. At 06.00 I met Peter at Copenhagen Airport. The car rental companies in Denmark don’t open until 08.00, except for the airport office, so we had to go there and pay extra to get a car.

Then we met up with Jacob at the warehouse and packed swords and costumes and a monster suit for an event with 80 kids. It was around 08.30. Then we started driving in a northwesterly direction. Now, for those who don’t know Copenhagen geography, that may seem a bit random, but suffice to say that I’d looked at the odds and decided that it was the best choice. Putting us on a highway around 20–25 minutes from Copenhagen city center gave us the biggest range, and unless we were really unlucky (and the job was to the south-east, for instance), it was a good idea.

Playing the odds

09.05. The phone rang. Jackpot. This was the customer (a school teacher, it turned out) asking where we were. I (of course) apologised for our lateness and said I thought we’d taken a wrong turn. She helpfully asked if it was near this and this forest, and I answered that that sounded realistic. She was very kind, and said that many people made that mistake. We joked a little about my lack of geographical skills and asked her for the precise address.

Then I called my sister, who I knew was at home. Remember, this was before smartphones, and we didn’t have a GPS in the car. My sister, bless her heart, wasn’t even slightly surprised to get a totally random request out of nowhere. “Can you tell me how to get from this rough location on this highway to this address?”

I noted down the directions, texted the teacher and got us on our way. It turned out that it was roughly 20 min away, so I said we’d be there at 09.20-ish with a little luck. The weather was good and I was suitably humble, so spirits were high and nobody was mad.

Still not completely in the clear

There were more than 80 kids.

While Jacob was handing out costumes to the kids, dividing them into four teams, Peter discreetly told me that we were up shit creek. I told him he didn’t have to worry.

“Claus, how are you going to conjure up swords?”

“Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”

He looked completely unconvinced, but I couldn’t let myself be stopped by that. Leaving the kids to Jacob and Peter, I grabbed one of the leftover costumes (we had packed too many by mistake) and folded in into a ball-like shape. It wasn’t elegant, but it was definitely a ball.

Then I called the kids together.

Fireballs can solve any problem

“So, before we hand out weapons, we need to select some magicians. Magicians get to have MAGICAL FIREBALLS instead of swords. When you get hit by one, you’re DEAD! It’s pretty damn awesome being a magician, but there are ONLY five pr team. Now who wants to be a magician?”

Among a sea of kids who hadn’t really realised yet that getting hit with a sword also killed you (making the fireballs neither more nor less deadly, just different), and who had their hands raised, I picked out five from each team, and got Jacob and Peter to make them fireballs.

The remaining 70 or so kids got swords. The teachers looked on, obviously satisfied with how we included several play options (sword OR magic) in the larp so elegantly. Peter was wearing a slightly stunned look, but also grinning a bit.

The rest of the day went wonderfully, and both adults and kids had a lot of fun. Afterwards, when payment was settled, several of the teachers commented how great it was to work with professionals, and how they had their initial disappointment at us being late turned into respect after seeing us handle the kids.

It actually worked

“I can’t believe that worked.”

I’m not sure I could either. But it did work. And though it seemed perfectly logical to me to tackle things this way, I realise that not everyone would be comfortable trying, and some would rather just have called it quits the night before.

I still don’t consider it being cold-blooded, because that to me has some very negative connotations. But I do accept the fact that it does require a bit of an icy stomach to do things this way.

I’ve also come a long way since then, but things still sometimes to to hell in a handbasket and I need to run very fast and/or improvise wildly. Sometimes it fails, but often it doesn’t. I guess a lot of that is because I know that there’s a good chance things will work out. I’ve seen it happen way too many times to panic easily, and I feel very privileged to have it that way.

Back to the beginning

There’s always time to panic later. No sense in doing it while there’s still a chance of making it — even if the chance is slight. As they say in the opera.

“It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”

And if you’re the director and you’re two acts away from the end and the fat lady is still missing, you can still dress up and get out there yourself.

At least, I’m convinced that that’s what I’d do.

Written by

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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