“If Snake-X then Antidote-Y”


So, this happened …

The first sign that something was wrong, very wrong, was when I heard the screams. We were a bunch of pre-teen boys on a scout camp, hiking back to our tent site after a long day in the bush, so there was a lot of shouting and joking anyway. But these screams were different. Even now I can feel my skin crawl, remembering.

I was just in time to hear the scoutmaster shouting at one of the senior scouts, as I arrived with the others to where Etienne was being propped up. “Get the snake bite kit out of the fucking bag. Concentrate man!” I was old enough to know the f-word, but young enough to still be shocked to hear it coming out of the mouth of an adult in front of me.

While the senior scout was digging for the kit, the scoutmaster was quizzing Etienne about the snake that bit him. “OK, so it was green, but how long was it? Long? Damn, so it could be a Green Mamba, or a Boomslang. Both are deadly. Thin? Arghh, so maybe a Boomslang. Or a Bush Snake, could be a Bush Snake, that’s not poisonous. Boomslang or Bush Snake. Tell me about its eyes Etienne, its eyes! Big eyes? Shit, Boomslang. OK, give me the kit, NOW!”

The scoutmaster then took out the kit and gave Etienne an injection, one specifically for extremely deadly Boomslang bites.

The next few hours were a blur. Somehow we carried Etienne back to the camp, and a few people got into the van, and rushed him to the nearest hospital, which was something like an hour or two’s drive away. It turned out that it had indeed been a Boomslang, an incredibly venomous snake, but because the scoutmaster had correctly identified the snake and administered the appropriate antidote, Etienne had survived. His chances, otherwise, would have been slim.

No-one was quite in the mood to be out in the bush anymore, so we packed up camp the next day. We hardly slept a wink, and really didn’t feel like brave adventurers anymore. Every gust of wind and rustle of leaves outside our tents woke us in pure panic. Camping at that time felt like a giant ‘nope’.

While packing everything up, my mind was wandering. I suddenly realised why it had been so important for us, as part of our scout training, to memorise the different types of snakes, including characteristics of their appearance and level of danger.

Had the scoutmaster got the identification wrong, Etienne may not have made it. Had the scoutmaster applied the wrong treatment (like cutting the wound and sucking out the poison, like they show in old Western movies) then Etienne would most certainly not have made it.

In the wild, taking relevant actions can directly affect whether we survive or not.

Simple Definition

If Snake-X then Antidote-Y: This story reminds us that in order to know which solution is required in the current situation, we first need to correctly identify what the problem is.

Discussing what it means

Looking back now, other than the screams, many of the details of the day are starting to fade. The weather, the names, even the area we went hiking that time – gone.

But the essence of what I carry from that day is totally clear:

  • A lot of things happen to us in life (none of us knew that someone would nearly die from a snake bite when we signed up, and yet there we were)
  • If we aren’t clear on the exact nature of what happened, we can’t act appropriately (it wasn’t just an injury, it wasn’t just a snake bite, it wasn’t just a green snake … it was a bite from a Boomslang specifically)
  • When we have labels for things, we can cut to the core quickly and efficiently (when I see something that is long, thin, green, big eyes – my brain immediately screams “Boomslang! Beware!“)
  • By the same token (it’s the opposite direction, but just as important) when I think of a particular label, I know exactly what to do (just hearing the scoutmaster declare it was a Boomslang bite, I immediately knew that we needed the Boomslang snack bite kit and we needed a hospital, and we needed it all now!)

And this, in essence is the #HashtagYourLife system:

  • We begin with a story, since stories are fun, captivating, and memorable
  • Each story gets a specific #hashtag, which we will make a point of remembering
  • We apply this label to represent the essence of our story
  • Since the #hashtag is memorable and represents the core of the story, we can use them interchangeably in our minds, when you think of one you will immediately appreciate the other
  • We then explore the antidote, which instantaneously comes to mind when we think about the #hashtag, and we know what the best possible action is in this situation
  • And we can use these #hashtags to communicate with ourselves and with others, quickly, efficiently and just the essence.

Let’s begin.

You’re welcome to begin with any #hashtag you want, but perhaps start with some of the more popular ones that people rely on to gain perspective, while becoming more effective.

Making it personal

  • Imagine being stuck while trying to make a choice, and suddenly realising it’s one of those #[Chicken or Fish] scenarios, and then knowing exactly what you should do
  • Consider a situation when a member of your team comes to you complaining that Machine-M isn’t making enough of Widget-W, and all you say to them is “If it’s snake-X, then …” and (because you’ve told them this story before) they know what they need to do, before coming back to you for a decision
  • Pretend you’re having an argument with your partner, and (s)he over-reacts to something you say. You then calmly point out “This is just #[Interesting but ugly], dear” and she pauses, remembers that story, and backs down because she realises she really did read more into what you said than what you intended.

How much simpler would life be if you had a whole bunch of #hashtags to call up whenever you faced a challenge. The relevant #hashtag that comes to mind of course then cuts to the essence of the situation, and allow you to see – with clarity and without emotional confusion – what the right action would be. How much simpler and happier would life be!

Related stories

#[Chicken or Fish]
#[Interesting but ugly]
#[It was never the chicken’s fault]