Accustomed as we are to creating plans to succeed on something, this may sound counterintuitive. Creating (serious) plans for failure is a much stronger source of creativity. The key question is simply, ’how can we make this fail, big time?’.
It’s not a joke, or a light exercise. It is actually very useful.
Over the years, I have used this technique to keep leadership teams thinking. Divided the team into two groups, one is tasked with creating a (high level) plan to succeed. The other is tasked with the opposite, an incredibly good plan to fail.
- The scenarios ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are almost never a mirror of each other (as one may have expected). There is of course an overlap but there are a lot more new angles in each of them, than simply the inverse of each other. It seems that in people’s minds, failing is not exactly the opposite of succeeding. And vice versa.
- Invariably, the ‘failure scenario plan team’ is by far much faster than the other in coming up with a plan. It seems that we know more about how to screw up than achieving positively.
- Although of course I don’t do this as an academic exercise, and both success and failure will be anchored to a specific situation (e.g deliver the strategic plan), I tend to avoid a very precise definition of success or failure upfront. I ask the teams to figure out those definitions by themselves.
- This is one of my preferred methods to start uncovering the behavioural DNA for our Viral Change™ programme. However, ‘behaviours’ are not easy to uncover for people who don’t do that very often, or for a living. Most of the first answers to the above questions come in the form of ‘process and systems answers’: that did not happen, R&D was late, project management did not coordinate, the pricing was wrong, etc. I then use those first answers to do my archaeological work and dig in to understand what behaviours were underneath those process and systems.
Inverting the question, from ‘what is the best way to achieve those results?’, to ‘what would it take to screw up completely?’ should be standard practice of any planning.
I promise. It works.