When thinking about a new venture or new project, it is natural that we start with the end in mind. It certainly makes sense to have a vision for what success looks like; defining what the metrics, outcomes, and tangible results would be of successful implementation or realization of your project, initiative, pursuit, or business idea.

This all makes a lot of sense and is a traditional way to think about planning for successful outcomes as well as creating the motivational triggers; those things that animate, encourage, and excite a team to pursue some higher goal.

However, it is just as important to develop something we’ll call Failure Vision.

That is, to extend a picture of the future at the same point in time where your successful outcomes are being envisioned. For example, if it were 24 months from now, and you were looking at not 1,000 units sold of product X, but just 5 units sold- or instead of $1 million in revenue from this product line, it didn’t sell at all — and you had the ability to look back in time over the prior 24 months, why were you not successful?

This question will tease out of your subconscious, the significant issues, concerns, doubts, etc… that need to be addressed in order for your success vision to come true. The more specific you are in defining what failure looked like at the appointed time where you thought success would happen, the sharper you will be at inoculating your venture from those very things that could undermine your success.

Thinking Backwards

In a hypothetical situation – if you were looking back – this deal did not happen because it needed CEO approval, and we never got CEO approval. This begs the question “What would have had to have happened for us to get this approval?” Well, I would have had to have met with the CEO. And why didn’t you meet with the CEO? Because the VP of Finance was not on board, and did not like us very much from prior deals. So, why did this happen? Because we never made right a customer service issue that’s still taking place right now, and we never won her over fully.

That scenario is just a sales pursuit– perhaps you could apply a failure vision to a business venture — you have a target, the business will be worth $5 million in 3 years time, you will sell 1,000 units of your widget or service. However, you look back and only sold 10% of what you thought you would sell. Now you’re out of money and time; What now? Why did this happen?

By casting yourself into the future, looking into a failed endeavor, you will clearly start visualizing the many milestones that may have been missed along the way to get you to success. You can now work backwards looking at those milestones, sort of a proactive forensic analysis of failure. Be cautious not to lose steam in doing this exercise, but also don’t be afraid of looking into the abyss; because by doing so, you can well-prepare your venture; your idea for even greater success.

Some key questions to ponder:

  • Do you and your team only think about being successful, to the point where you could be creating blind spots for yourself?
  • Can you look at potential failure points as weak links in your chain to success and not lose the emotional energy necessary to pursue that success by strengthening those weak links?
  • Can you alter your plans in positive ways to take into account these weak links?

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