Roy Osing is former executive vice-president of Telus, educator, adviser and author of Be Different or Be Dead.
Many people I associated with over my career were “one-timers” when they ran into an unforeseen problem.
They would typically shout their displeasure about the unanticipated event and quickly make excuses to everyone around them about why they were unable to deliver the expected result. They were victimized by the assault of a random event and reached back to “things happened that were beyond my control” to explain away their failure to succeed.
These people believed that it was okay to fail because things didn’t go as planned; some unexpected force reared its ugly head and torpedoed their plan, so they can be forgiven for falling short of what was expected of them.
It’s nonsense, of course. Unforeseen and unexpected events always reveal themselves. It’s rare that a plan plays out according to its original script; only naive and inexperienced people actually believe that any plan is immune to randomness.
That’s not the way the real world works, despite teachings that suggest that if you follow academic doctrine and formulas – and get As to prove you mastered the content – success will be your reward.
Successful people are different than excuse artists. They expect that a plan never works the way it was originally intended, and they are naturals at looking at a potentially negative situation and finding “the pony.”
They are drawn to opportunity buried in what appears to be an unsightly mess.
When confronted with a setback over which they have no control, they deploy these actions to recover.
They emphatically declare to one and all their intention to not accept the bad hand they have been dealt and that they will find a way to get back on track.
They want everyone to know that their brand is all about coming back, not giving in.
In fact, they dedicate time to educate their peers on the power and strategic value of preparing for the unexpected and building contingency into their work.
They study the forces that caused their plan to go awry; the detailed characteristics of the unanticipated intervention at play.
Even though disappointment is difficult to subdue, they work hard to get the facts that caused the problem rather than succumbing to an emotional response.
They evaluate the specific impact the intervention will likely have on the current course of action. If left unattended, what destination will be reached?
With this extrapolated end point in mind, they develop a new plan vector, taking into account the old plan and the interruptive force.
And they get specific in terms of the counterinitiatives that will be needed in order to recover at least as much value as the original plan was expected to generate.
They look for nuggets; opportunities in the unexpected event disguised as a body blow.
Rather than merely accommodating it in the new trajectory, they seek to exploit it and leverage any intrinsic value that they can mine from it.
Given the new force at play, how can its energy be harnessed to catapult them in the new direction? Accommodating the unanticipated into a new plan is substituted by a new motivation – embracing it as a source of propulsion to launch a new course of action.
“This is how it might work” replaces “Rats, it didn’t work.”
The successful recovery artist doesn’t stop when a body blow fails to yield a new course of action with significant benefits. They continue to iterate through possible adaptations until they find one that will work.
And they understand that a perfect new solution is unlikely, as that criterion could only be met with a return to the preshock state and the original plan.
Their motivation, on the other hand, is to land on an alternative plan that is a good "imperfect" one.
Success in a highly unpredictable environment is marked not by accurately anticipating uncontrollable events, but rather by harnessing the unforeseen and making the best of a bad lot in remarkable fashion.
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