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Surprises are great... for birthdays

Updated: Jun 5

A child blowing on birthday candles

Oh, I was not expecting that. You don’t want a policeman to say that. Nor a surgeon. Or army general. 

When it’s life or death, surprise is not acceptable. Yet in business, when the risks are more financial than mortal, we accept surprise as a valid response.

If you manage risk, part of your job is to anticipate and account for the unexpected. “Hmm, that’s strange” from your surgeon would not be a comforting response mid-surgery. If a pilot got on the intercom and announced “we just encountered something we weren’t expecting”, the passengers would likely be nervous.

Disaster recovery plans require some unusual thinking: what if there is a coup and martial law is declared? What if the office building collapses and no one can get to the server room? What if everyone on the management team is killed in a plane crash? Exercising the “what if” muscle will help reinforce your planning so that nothing that arises shocks or paralyzes your decision making. “We trained for this scenario” is a powerful response to any shocking incident. Police and emergency responders shouldn’t have the monopoly on this line of thinking. 

Some questions to prepare for:

• What do you do if your direct competitor suddenly goes out of business?

• What happens if your CEO dies of a heart attack?

• What do you do if your controller empties the bank account?

• What happens if your identity is stolen and your clients get contacted by the imposter

• What happens if someone steals your domain name away from your registrar?

Surprises are great for birthday parties or Oprah show giveaways. In business, they indicate a lack of foresight or conservative planning. Avoid surprises by actively and continuously predicting and modeling for the unexpected. You'll get ridiculed for being a worry-wart and a doomsayer. When the unexpected happens later, you'll be grinning from ear to ear because you'll have already anticipated it and engaged your contingency plan. The only surprise then will be the look on your coworkers' faces.


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