The Danger of Ad Hoc


The ability to think is important. At times, the ability to think under pressure and adapt to change is even more important. However, just because someone of importance or authority can make an ad hoc decision, does not always mean they get it right. And it does not mean their authority makes them beyond question.

For instance, I was at a recent large chamber of commerce event. It was a networking event similar to speed dating, but for businesses. There were tables for eight people. Each person had sixty seconds to explain their business. After everyone had a turn, the moderator would have everyone get up and change tables. Then the process repeated in new groups.

Easy enough. But there was a problem, and that was compounded by a spontaneous, ad hoc change by the moderator that no one seemed to realize created more problems.

There were very bad storms that day and many people that had registered failed to attend. But instead of just using fewer tables, the moderator (without removing chairs) set the rules to be seven people per table instead of eight. Then he announced he would allow an extra exchange of tables “so you get a chance to meet even more people.”

This created a host of problems. People arriving late saw an empty chair at a table and took it mid-round. That meant too many people for the time allocated. And the extra rotation with 7 people per table was actually fewer contacts than the original plan of 8 people per table without the extra rotation. In other words, his new plan reduced the number of contacts instead of increasing it!

Business Man Speaking at a Lecturn

So, while thinking he was rescuing the event, the moderator induced more chaos and reduced the number of contacts each person could make in the process. A lose-lose.

I was fascinated that no one seemed to notice the problems. Everyone just followed along. Of course this could have just been in the spirit of cooperation. However, as I mentioned the new process reduced our number of contacts instead of increasing them, each person looked very surprised. Some even looked doubtful I was correct. After all, we got an extra rotation, right?

People are good at fooling themselves. And when we fool ourselves, we often fool others. People will easily believe what they are told and even blindly accept and willingly cooperate with a bad plan without much consideration.

Now I know this all sounds like I’m complaining about the event. I’m really not. The chaos induced was relatively minor and the number of contact opportunities was only reduced by a few. I actually saw this as a personal bonus, the chance to watch everyone and ask many of them questions while in the midst of this bad ad hoc plan that reduced the business value of the event. And I still made new business contacts.

Ad Hoc thinking and plans are important but not without risk. Just because there may be little time to consider options does not mean our thought process should be turned off.

“Winging it” has gotten many a successful person through a challenge. Just be careful to not assume that this is always a recipe for success, no matter how important you are or how confident your leader may seem.


Glenn S. Phillips is the author of Nerd-to-English: Your Everyday Guide to Translating Your Business, Your Messages, and Yourself. His website,, will lead you to more information about effective communication training, risk assessments and genuinely helpful tips. You can email Glenn directly at

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About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.