Prepare for Failure

change change management expectations goal setting premeditatio malorum Jul 29, 2021
Image of fish falling out of water glass with words
Recently, The New York Times published an article about learning how to fall is one of the first steps you should take if you want to attempt a sport from the Olympics. The irony is that learning how to fall or fail is just as important in your training when attempting ANY new project or activity.
 
So often, we dive into a new personal, professional, or organizational change and we focus only on the positive possibilities. But, it's equally (if not MORE) important to train for what could happen if you trip, fall, or fail.
 
The Stoics encouraged this practice through something they called "Premeditatio Malorum". It's a long, ancient word for thinking about what COULD go wrong...a little bit of worst-case scenario pre-planning. In fact, it's a practice more businesses are starting to include as part of any new project kick-off. Instead of all rah-rah's, many will start the first meeting of a new initiative by saying, "Congratulations! This project failed spectacularly...what went wrong?".
 
The goal or intention of this exercise is NOT to think "sky is falling" thoughts, but to be prepared and avoid emotional or progress "injury" or abandonment when slips or trips occur. 


Here are FIVE Tips to Help You Plan for (but not expect) Failure:


1. Think about the MOST PROBABLE scenarios

Don't get caught in the trap of thinking of EVERY POSSIBLE failure or falter when practicing this pre-planning. Yes, an earthquake could strike or the market could crash, but is that PROBABLE? Most likely not.

The intention here is to think of some of the most common ways things can go off course since those are the ones that will most likely "unexpectedly" pop up. However, don't be an ostrich and stick your head in the sand, either, thinking nothing could go wrong. You have decades of experiences where things didn't entirely go the way you thought...use those for when you prepare for what's next. 


2. Allow a few LEAST PROBABLE scenarios in your plan

Ok, so we said an earthquake or market crash is not very PROBABLE, but definitely spend a little bit of time thinking about IF those happened. Again, the intention here is to not think of EVERY LEAST LIKELY scenario, but have a general plan for if that massive, unplanned turd flies into your well-oiled, functioning plan. Buuuuut....don't focus your energy on this one too much.

Plan for the worst POSSIBLE, but REALLY think about the most PROBABLE


3. Welcome the Cynics to the Table

Most of the time, the cynics in our lives or businesses can make for more aggravation or annoyance than we'd like. However, when it comes to worst-case-scenario thinking, they are probably going to be your BEST RESOURCES. This is the cynics' time to shine. To be heard. To have their "Debbie Downer" thinking serve as an ASSET vs. a pain in one.

Now, just like we covered in Tip #1 and #2, it's important to set the parameters for anyone playing this "what's the worst that could happen" exercise. This is meant to help PREPARE FOR, not DETER, plan success. 


4. Develop a Culture of Idea Meritocracy and Radical Transparency

This is a simple statement that requires a fair amount of ATTENTION and INTENTION. In order to create a Team culture where ideas are respectfully debated and feedback is welcomed and valued is not something that happens passively or by luck. And, remember, a Team is not just who you work with; you are a part of many teams in your life - family, friends, church, volunteer, club, community, neighborhood, and more.

Teams must learn to COMMUNICATE effectively, COLLABORATE accountably, and be resilient MINDFULLY in order to create a culture where healthy conflict, trust, and decisions can emerge. 


5. Plan for the Worst, and Then Execute for the Best

Just like the Times' article highlighted, it's important to practice HOW TO FALL. This way, the fear of it happening is significantly reduced. You're able to feel comfortable knowing that, if you fall, you can get right back up and keep going. It's critical that - when practicing a little bit of Premediatio Malorum that it serves as a bumper, not a barrier

Yes, identify the ways failure or falt could occur, but then make sure you're setting your sights on doing the best you can to hopefully achieve gold, knowing that you can better adjust (mid-air) and prevent the fall even before it happens

 

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Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay