As all good trainers know, thorough planning is always recommended. But as we also know, despite the best laid plans, things don’t always work out the way we had expected. And isn’t it funny how this always, always, seems to happen when you’re on the road?!!

So there I am in Dubai a few years back, about as far out on the road as you can get, in the midst of a nice little treasure hunt for a group of 11 natural gas analysts. Everything is going smoothly. The hotel conference room is comfortable and well-appointed. The clues are solid – vetted, play-tested and printed (in color) at the local Fedex/Kinko’s. (Yes, they had a Fedex/Kinko’s in the United Arab Emirates.) The hunt participants are making good progress on the morning stage of their all-day, driving treasure hunt around Dubai City. All in all, everything is ship-shape; I’ve done my planning well and thus am feeling appropriately confident. And that, of course, is when I let my guard down and everything pretty much blows in my face. Yes, my friends, I am about to enter treasure hunt hell!

Here’s how it goes down: ascertaining that the group has understood the treasure hunt process and is okay without me looking over their shoulders, I decide to make my way over to the nearest clue location: a glittering camel statue outside a luxury hotel. What a great photo spot! Now, Dubai is a fairly small place but it’s definitely not walkable.   In spite of the always-dreadful traffic, my taxi makes good time driving over to the hotel – plenty of time for me to position myself discreetly in photo distance of the camel statue, awaiting the first hunt participants. This is going to work out splendidly, I think; I’ll get some nice pics, hail another cab, and meet the group at Planet Hollywood in time for lunch.   Just as I’d planned! And that’s w-h-e-n…i-t…h-i-t-s…m-e; my clue bag is still in the trunk of the taxi! All the materials for the second stage of the hunt have just driven off into the Arabian desert! It’s pretty much my Trainer’s Worst Case Scenario, come horribly, devastatingly true.

My head spins. My mind races. My heart is on course for a sure thrombosis. “I am so sunk! I don’t have the taxi driver’s name, phone number, license number, ID, nothing. All I have is a receipt for the 20 dirhams I paid him. What do I tell the client? ‘Oh, sorry, I’ve lost the second half of your program. Terribly sorry. Here’s your money back.’ I came 10,000 miles to deliver this program, on the client’s dime. Argh!!”

Clearly I have to shake off the gremlin-thoughts and make a new plan, pronto. But what? How am I going to salvage this situation?

Fortunately for me, hotels in Dubai place a high emphasis on catering to the needs of the rich and famous. I am neither of these, of course, but in a pinch, I can do a fair approximation of a harried Westerner. Rushing over to the nearest bellman, I explain my plight. “I need your help in tracking down a cab driver. Yes, I know, there are hundreds of drivers here in Dubai. There must be some way to find him.” A quick scan of my cab receipt (a lucky thing I’d asked for it) reveals the name of the taxi company. My bellman calmly states, “Let me call them.” Ten minutes (and many miles of nervous pacing) later, the bellman returns with the good news: the taxi company has found my driver! Although 20 minutes away, he is on his way back to the hotel: my bag (and my reputation) in his trunk.

But wait, this is Dubai, remember – a place where there are more cars than people. That means there is ever-present gridlock on the roads, at all hours, day and night. Twenty minutes become 30, then 40…but praise Allah, my cab driver eventually comes rolling up the hotel ramp. Off we plunge into the noontime traffic, inching our way ­ painfully towards Planet Hollywood. With minutes to spare, I bustle into the restaurant just as my group is finishing their meal ­– just in time, in fact, for stage two of the hunt! Needless to say, I don’t get much time to eat that day — apart from some crow, perhaps. But my scrambling has paid off.  The hunt is still on!

Planning is a key element of all training programs, whether it’s a classroom DISC course or a treasure hunt in the Middle East. But there are times when you just have to take a deep breath, center yourself, and scramble for a solution. In today’s story, I had planned my day (and my program) down to the smallest detail; everything should have gone well. The fact that it didn’t had more to do with my own inattentiveness to my surroundings: my own lack of presence.   Here’s what I learned:

1) Anticipate problems to the best of your abilities

2) Stay focused on the now

3) Expect the unexpected

4) Trust my experience and my ability to problem solve on the fly