Negative visualizations don’t only increase your happiness; in business it can save a project from failure.
Many business projects that fail could be prevented. People often neglect to consider that things might not go according to plan. As a result, they feel no need to make a contingency plan, which leads to an unnecessary increase in project failure.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Moreover, if people have concerns about a project they are often reluctant to speak up. This might be because they want to minimize conflict, are worried to offend their peers or are afraid to make enemies.
There is a technique to let people share their concerns and to prevent overconfidence from doing damage.
Psychologist Gary Klein introduced the concept of premortem. This is a managerial strategy in which, before the project launch, the manager envisions that the project has failed. Next, the manager asks the team: what went wrong? Now the team has to work backwards and think of reasons why the project has failed.
It may sound counterproductive to ask your employees to think negatively. But, many fortune 500 companies use this technique as a response to the overly positive thinking.
By envisioning the negative outcomes, the team can mitigate the identified risks before the project launch.
The premortem in short:
- Before the project starts you imagine that the project has failed.
- Now work backwards and make a list of all the reasons why the project failed.
- Pick the problems that you think need fixing and strengthen the plan.
The Roman philosopher Seneca used the same technique thousands of years ago. Seneca planned his trips by writing out all the things that could go wrong. In addition to preventing possible risks he also prepared himself for possible failure. Visualizing all the things that can go wrong helped him to manage expectations: he knew what could happen and was prepared to face that reality.
When we anticipate threats to a project we can work to avoid them and prepare ourselves to deal with possible failure. Wouldn’t it be much better to have a premortem instead of a postmortem?