How Negative Thinking Creates Positive Solutions

Shooting down ideas is sport to corporate teams.

What happens when new ideas come before teams? People explain why they won’t work!

Don’t you hate people who explain why something won’t work?

I’ve learned to respect, admire, and leverage the insights of people who anticipate what could go wrong.

It’s dangerous to expect plans to work and not anticipate what could go wrong.

How might we screw up:

Create a plan by asking how you might screw up.

Planning – during Covid-19 – feels like chasing greased pigs. Education leaders chase plans for opening schools. Business leaders try to get a grip on re-opening business or bringing people back into the office.

Don’t ask, “How will it work?” Ask, “What might go wrong?”

Set a goal:

We’re bringing our people back into the office, for example.

Leverage negative thinking:

Ask, “How will we screw up bringing our people back into the office?” People might say…

  1. We could minimize people’s concerns.
  2. We won’t take appropriate precautions.
  3. We’ll allow exemptions that create resentment.
  4. We might under-communicate with customers.

You create adversarial relationships when you defend ideas before anticipating what might go wrong.

4 advantages:

#1. Lively discussion:

Use the “How we might screw up” question to ignite lively conversation.

#2. Buy-in:

Ease fear and create buy-in by discussing potential screw ups before expecting commitment.

#3. Respect:

Respect leaders who are talented at NOT screwing up.

Skillful leaders anticipate failure until potential problems are resolved.

#4. Confidence:

Resistance goes down and confidence goes up when people use if-then planning.

  1. If people express concerns about returning to the office, then…
  2. If CDC guidance changes, then…
  3. If people ask for exemption, then…

What could go wrong if you include “what might go wrong” thinking in your planning process?

How might plans be created/strengthened by anticipating what could go wrong?

Bonus material:

How to Solve Problems at Work Before they Happen (Inc)

Anticipate Problems with a Pre-mortem (Nobi Acadamy)

Leadership in Crisis – How to Be a Leader (WSJ)