Two ways of anticipating events

Different people respond to change in different ways, and here is a pair of responses which I’ve not seen discussed in any of the Change literature I have come across.

Fore-warned is fore-armed


Don’t trouble trouble, till trouble troubles you

I like contingency plans: for me the big benefit of thinking ahead of major change events is that action is not driven by emotion.  Instead, it has been thoroughly thought through ahead of time.  If things are uncertain, then one may need several well thought-through plans: if there’s any good cheese in the Farmer’s Market we’ll have a cheese-board, otherwise I’ll make crème brûlée.

However there are many people who want to have all the facts laid out fair and square before making decisions about what to do and what not to do. They find thinking about hypotheticals too, well, hypothetical.  The big advantage of this approach is that by being open to happenstance, they can take advantage of the fresh raspberries and make Pavlova.

To take a more realistic example, I was discussing this with a professional breaker of bad news, a hospital doctor, and she said that her patients had one of two responses when she ordered tests:

What’s the worst it could be, Doctor?  I need to think this through before my wife visits.


Don’t tell me what it is until you know. I’ll deal with it when we know what it is.

What’s the practical application of this?

Firstly, add it to the lenses that you use with other people, so that you don’t consider it to be a sign of a character flaw or unprofessionalism if someone deals uncertainty in a different way from you.

Secondly, take it a step further and play to the person’s strengths.  I’d bet folding money that the first group work best with formal methodologies, governance, planning and delivery and that the second group prefer agile development, incident management, service and support.

Thirdly, accept that you cannot get the timing right with Transformation and Change communications.  If you withhold the big picture until the details are all worked out then you’ll annoy the first group, but if you signal things early and you’ll unsettle the second.

Who said it was easy?

5 responses to “Two ways of anticipating events

  1. Can’t believe this isn’t discussed in the change literature, it’s fairly well known in the ‘breaking bad news to dying people literature’. ..

  2. Ah well.

    Your literature is better than my literature then.


  3. The world is full of literatures which

    (a) I didn’t realise exist
    (b) obviously do exist and make perfect sense if you think about it even for a moment
    (c) I would prefer didn’t have to exist.

  4. Having contingency plans clearly can be comforting and those of us that work in the NHS are required to submit them regularly for such unexpected events as winter.

    I tend to keep in mind a saying that a manger friend picked up when he worked for the military. “No plan survives contact with the enemy”.

    I think much of the difference in approach to impending difficulty relates to how individuals prefer to take in information. Those that find spreadsheets, profit/loss accounts etc helpful like to have information in advnce because they can process it, others (like me) who gain more by seeing the face of the person telling the story than they do from the data, find the email with all the attchments, sent out before the meeting, boring and useless. Both at home, and at work, I partner with someone who is the opposite to me in this area. It is both infuriating and very effective.

    • Hi Daniel

      I’ll match your “no plan survives contact with the enemy” and raise you the RAF’s phrase “poor preparation makes for p***-poor performance”. 😉

      You are absolutely right that it’s a cognitive thing, though I am not sure that it’s how people take in information; I think it may be how they process it.

      Welcome to my blog, and thanks for dropping by and commenting.


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