It's great when we get lots of time to dig into a problem before having to choose a solution to implement.
I love it when that happens!
Except that, in my experience, it rarely ever happens. In fact, in my experience, leaders usually have to make decisions essentially while still processing incoming information.
More than once, I have found myself having to stop and refocus because my mind was wandering off in “analysis land” in the middle of a meeting.
So, what process could we follow if we wanted to do a rapid risk forecast?
The first thing we could do is ask ourselves for simple questions:
Write it all out.
If you have something that is likely to happen and the consequences are low, consider whether it is something that is extremely risky that you need to address right now. But if it's something that is less likely to happen, but the consequences are dire, for instance that it would shut down the business, your clients would be upset or you would lose significant income, then that's something that requires immediate attention.
Think about those four questions and weigh how the various consequences impact the business, the clients, the team members, morale, etc.
When doing this exercise, it is best to have others chime in with their perspective as well. Let’s face it, as amazing as you are, I am sure, you still have your own perspective, right? And we try to think about the various perspectives, but it's still coming from one mind. If we have someone else that has knowledge of the issue, it will likely help provide us with extra perspective because it's a different brain. Even if the person is similar to you – hopefully they're not – but if they are, then it's still a person with a different perspective and different thoughts. And that could really help come up with potentially different consequences.
Worst case, let's say you don't have someone who really knows the topic and you're really kind of the only person who does, you could still get someone to talk to. It’s tempting to dismiss this as useless. But, in the world of software, there’s a concept called rubberducking or rubber duck debugging. It’s a method that they use to debug code by talking about it. They would present the problem, what they are trying to solve and what they’re struggling with. And it was in the explaining of those elements that frequently an idea would come out. Apparently, this idea was popularized in the book, The Pragmatic Programmer, and it was a story about how a programmer would carry around an actual rubber duck and would be talking to the rubber duck and going line by line with the code, trying to debug it. This practice was seemingly extremely helpful and that general concept kind of stayed.
Therefore, even if you have someone else who isn't directly involved, just talking to them about it, taking them through the four questions, that could be hugely helpful because it's forcing you to verbalize it. I am not sure why it works, but it does. There's something about when you have to actually get it out and explain it, that your brain synthesizes it differently for some reason. And that's extremely helpful.
In addition to not doing it alone and asking the four questions, when doing this exercise, try to be present in the moment.
That's actually really hard. It sounds silly, but it's not. Because, as leaders, we’re constantly trying to come up with solutions, assessing the risks, trying to figure out consequences, evaluating what needs to be prioritized.
There is a lot going on in our minds.
I know I'm the first one who is guilty of doing this. How many times have I had to stop because I’ve drifted off to “analysis land”. I'm no longer listening to what the team is saying because my mind is already trying to solve the problem.
Or, as I'm listening to the team talk, my mind all of a sudden is asking numerous questions and wanting to express several thoughts at the same time. Trying to focus on being very present and just thinking about that one thing really is harder than it seems.
Start by really listening and trust that your brain will still be formulating solutions. Even if we're only listening, our brain is still processing the information. It's still trying to come up with solutions.
What I found in being super focused on what the team is telling me when doing this exercise, is that in really listening to other points of views, it almost frees up other parts of my mind to do its thing. And then I will hear what they're saying differently. It will sound differently than if I were trying to process information and come up with solutions at the same time as they're talking. So really try to focus and be present in that conversation.
The nature of some situations will, of course, require a lengthier more thorough examination. This quick risk forecast is not appropriate in all cases.
There will be times when deep research will be necessary.
But there are times when circumstances, impact, and other factors lend themselves to a quick analysis. And in those instances, this rapid forecast works really well.
In trying this process, it may even influence your own usual approach and potentially provide an even more strategically sound solution. Give it a try. When it makes sense!