While sitting in my hotel room in Sunnyvale, California last evening I encountered a "problem" I didn't anticipate and that gave me a literal "jolt" when it happened. While living in California for 12 years, earthquakes became something I expected, anticipated, and didn't get too rattled over when they occurred. I found them to be kind of the ultimate roller coaster ride--lots of excitement with no clue as to what was ahead or when the ride would end. (Okay, the '89 San Francisco quake was a bit of an exception, but that's another story.)
After living in Texas for 13 years, earthquakes are no longer on my radar screen. I don't think about them, anticipate them, or expect them. So when a 5.6 shaker hit the San Jose area last evening, my mind immediately began racing for explanations as to why it sounded like the guy in the room above mine was doing aerobics and the shades on my windows were swinging back and forth without any hint of a breeze. I no longer anticipated the "problem" of an earthquake and it came as a big surprise.
I should have been more tuned in to planning for problems after spending two stimulating and rewarding days with a group of senior managers in a technical company talking about ways to resolve and prevent complex business problems. But my lack of anticipation left me wondering for a moment what to do.
As much as we stress problem anticipation and prevention, I recognize that there are some problems in life you can't prevent--death, taxes, getting older--and earthquakes are all in that category. That's why anticipating and planning for those types of problems becomes even more important. Anticipating a problem is the first step toward it's prevention or at least toward minimizing the impact of something when it happens.
Unfortunately, many business leaders don't take time to anticipate and plan for problems they can prevent which leaves them even more vulnerable when they are hit by a problem over which they have no control. Problem anticipation takes time. Cleaning up the mess after a problem hits also takes time and resources--and often draws people away from their focus on what needs to be done.
What problems, if they hit, would sideline your business or at least create a major distraction from your priorities? What are you doing to prevent those problems from occurring? It is too easy--and honestly, pretty irresponsible to put all potential problems in the same bucket as earthquakes and taxes.
Some focused anticipation and planning today can prevent a lot of problems you can control and will put you in a better position for the problems over which you have no control.