How an unexpected bomb that blows up in your face can be no biggie.
- A pandemic shuts your business down.
- You’ve just been told you’re fired.
- An unfiltered remark your friend makes completely blindsides you.
- A small business tax increase announced by the government immediately increases your operating costs and reduces your profits.
- An aggressive move made by your closest competitor jeopardizes your market position.
- You’ve just lost the best player on your team.
Something happens that is completely unexpected, and could never have been predicted.
And it’s not a minor incremental event; it’s a BIG! discontinuity.
How often does this happen in business or your personal life?
It seems that ‘I didn’t see that coming!’ is becoming the new normal in all aspects of our world these days.
In spite of the plethora of sophisticated planning, forecasting and prediction tools available to us, as well as the pumped up awareness we try to exercise in our personal life, stuff we didn’t see coming hits us more often than occurrences we have successfully predicted.
The challenge is to be able to deal with it the best way possible to mitigate any potential downside for us personally.
Here are some ‘deal with it’ actions to take to get through the pain of the unexpected:
#1. Accept it
Understand that the unexpected is now a common element of life and accept it, because if you still believe that your original plan in anything will turn out the way you’ve intended, you’re in trouble. If you don’t have the right frame, you have no chance of turning a surprise into a successful outcome.
You can’t be leaning away from chaotic possibilities; you need to be leaning into it in order to turn a potentially disastrous event into a positive one.
#2. Be wary of predictive tools
Realize the limitations of forecasting tools and don’t put too much reliance on them. Treat the predictive tools as part of your ‘this is what might happen’ thinking; a possibility and no more.
If you give the result produced by the common predictive toolset serious credence, you are vulnerable to the surprise attack.
#3. Develop spider senses
Developing your spider senses to be acutely aware of conditions that might spawn discontinuity is essential if a win is to be extracted from a hit. You need to be prepared for a hit and constantly be uncomfortable in your skin.
If you’re not looking for a possible disruption, you will likely miss it when — not if — it occurs.
If you’re comfortable in these times, you’re not prepared.
#4. Get a rhythm
Try to be more nimble in the face of the unexpected. Can you dance? Can you change your cadence and rhythm to act differently when the unexpected happens?
Generally you don’t have a month to decide what action to take; get used to real time responses that make use of the very best information you have available to you.
Be on your toes, dash, stay on your toes and dash again — the only planning process that will work for a world where constant body blows is the expected.
#5. Have tolerance
Tolerate the blindside as a reality we all face at some point in our lives. There’s no point trying to fight it; it’s a legitimate fact of life over which we have little or no control.
If we can accept the likelihood that a massive shift will likely occur, our openness places us in a good position to create a positive outcome from it.
Intolerance to the blindside and believing that it is unlikely is an unreasonable position to take and it results in being subsumed by it.
#6. Create perspective
Develop a perspective about these happenings. Is the unexpected event a big deal or a no biggie?
You need to be able to assess the importance of the zinger in the total scheme of things in order to decide how much emotional energy you should be expending on responding to it. Pouring your guts into an event with little of no import in your life doesn’t make any sense; it’s draining and counterproductive.
I used the simple 1 — 10 scale to assess whether I should be reacting to a body slam; anything over a ‘7’ got my attention and I was all over treating it serious and responding accordingly. Anything in the ‘5’ to ‘6’ range got mediocre attention; less than ‘5’ got a nod of acknowledgment and nothing more.
#7. Have a backup plan
Always have a contingency plan just in case. If the unpredicted affects a plan you put into action, you should have thought through a contingency in the event that it is thrown off course.
No plan or strategy ever turns out the way we originally thought it would so be prepared with an option that you can throw into place on a moment’s notice.
As part of your strategic planning process, ask ‘what if’ of your critical assumptions. What if your estimated sales fall short by 50%? What if your business is suddenly closed — COVID certainly wasn’t expected, was it?
What if you lose your anchor client for your new product? Assess every cataclysmic event that could impact your plan and have a response ready and waiting to implement.
#8. Take a deep breath
Pause, take a deep breath and think before you act. OMG! knee-jerk responses are dangerous and typically lose the long term perspective; they play out in the here and now and can prejudice the future.
So think about the event that just played out; look for reasons why it occurred; consult the contingencies you’ve developed and then act on the one you believe is appropriate given all things considered.
#9. Stop being naïve
Lose the naivety; bad stuff happens. You’ll only be surprised if you have a pollyanna attitude to believe that continuity of anything is possible.
Being in a state of comfort has its roots founded in the past, where the rate and degree of change — across social norms, technology, politics and markets — was much more modest than it is today.
Today, with its deadly unpredictability must be respected and honored if you are to survive.
Morph your expectations into believing that anything is possible and that how we deal with the unexpected is the most significant determinant of progress.
Be prepared or be done. When the storm comes, it’s critical to be ready with a survival kit and storm shelter to protect you.
‘I didn’t see that coming’ should be part of every school curriculum under survival skills, what you need to know about getting by in a world of unpredictability and change.
And it’s more than developing the ability to cope; it’s about taking the forces you didn’t ask for and using them to your advantage.
Don’t be a victim. Be prepared for incoming.
Related: Why Successful Startup Leaders Are Out-of-Step With Others