The Choluteca Bridge – why lasting plans might be useless

“The Choluteca Bridge is a terrific metaphor of what can happen to us – as the world gets transformed.”
Businessworld, May 2020

The story of the Choluteca Bridge is one that surprisingly has not been overly discussed. It is a suspension bridge located in the Honduran city of Choluteca, and it was first built in the 1930s. However, the government decided to rebuild the bridge in 1996, taking into account the severe weather conditions (i.e., hurricanes) that the bridge had to withstand.

The government commissioned some of the best architects and a state-of-the-art bridge was built, strong enough to remain in place after a hurricane hit the country. In 1998, the bridge was put to test as the Caribbean was badly hit by Hurricane Mitch, one of the most damaging ones in recent years. Buildings and houses were destroyed, but the Choluteca Bridge stood its ground almost unscratched.

Take for instance the Choluteca Bridge as your (strategic) plan, you would probably be very satisfied when everything crashed around it, but your plan survived. You thought very hard about the current conditions, looked for the best tools available and designed something solid and reliable. 

The problem came when the environment had changed so much that it had re-shaped the river the Choluteca Bridge was crossing. The massive rains had caused the river to carve a new path, one which did not flow under the bridge and which turned out to be useless.

The Choluteca Bridge after withstanding Hurricane Mitch

We are living in a fast-changing world where the environment can change remarkably fast. Building the most solid plan can become absolutely useless if the situation changes. Often, we know the environment is prone to change but we do little about it. In fact, the architects of the Choluteca bridge knew that eventually a hurricane would hit it but assumed that river would not be relocated.

When making plans we ought to take into account how markets, customer preferences, and behaviours will change. We will surely won’t have a perfect answer, but we can make sure our plans are built to be adapted, not built to last. Otherwise, as the Choluteca Bridge story shows, we could be left with an outstanding bridge. One that leads us to nowhere.