6 Easy Steps to Prepare for the Unexpected

Chris Groscurth, Ph.D.
5 min readApr 20, 2020
Photo credit: Uzenzen

What do a global pandemic, skyrocketing demand for your product or service, divorce, and a new job offer across the country all have in common? They’re all unexpected life events that require preparation. Not to mention all things that I’ve had to prepare for in the last six years.

Among these life events, the global pandemic of 2020 has taught me some very important lessons about preparing for the unexpected. In full disclosure, I’m someone who gets paid to help leaders anticipate, forecast, speculate, and plan for the future. Despite this, I did not see a pandemic that would send the global economy into a nosedive coming. Lesson learned: No matter how well you prepared you are, the future always has the upper hand!

While none of us has a crystal ball, at any given moment we have information that we can use to prepare for the future. When you think about it, you’re probably already pretty good at preparing for the unexpected. For instance, if you see grey clouds on the horizon, you grab your umbrella before leaving the house. If your car makes a funny noise, you take it to a mechanic to avoid being stranded on the side of the road.

Knowing how to use today’s information to prepare for tomorrow’s unexpected adventure is a valuable skill. And, the good news is that preparation and forecasting are skills that can be learned.

Preparation is a process, and processes have steps. So, let’s breakdown each step.

Step 1: Take Murphy’s Law to Heart

We’re all familiar with the adage, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” But how many of us take this to heart and prepare our businesses, our families, and our finances “as if” a negative future may be on the horizon? The first step in preparing for the unexpected is to admit that bad things can (and often do) happen. Yes, they even happen to good people!

Entropy is a reality of physics. All things in nature and human systems have a tendency to breakdown. This is nature’s way of seeking balance. It’s not a matter of “if” the unexpected will happen, it’s a matter of when!

Step 2: Brainstorm Possible Futures

Once we accept the fact that the unexpected is unavoidable. It’s time to anticipate and envision possible futures. This is the creative part! We tend to go negative first, envisioning all of the bad things that can go wrong (rightly so, see Step 1).

As human beings, we are neurologically programmed to look for threats in our environment. Spotting threats is the basis of genetic survival of the fittest. As you envision possible futures, I’d suggest thinking of possible positive futures too. What happens if customer demand spikes 10x? Can you scale to meet production? (Ahem, toilet paper. Just saying).

Step 3: Know Your Risk Tolerance

With possible futures in hand, it’s time to think with your head, not just your heart. Ask yourself, “how likely are each of the possible scenarios? What’s the probability that one future might occur over another? How much risk am I willing to take on?”

In 2006, for example, Larry Brilliant (great name!) stated in his TED Talk that 90% of top epidemiologists, whom he had studied, reported that a pandemic within their children’s or grandchildren’s lifetime would result in:
1 billion people getting sick, 165 million deaths, a global recession and depression, and $1–3 trillion cost to the economy.

Apparently, most of us were comfortable with the risk of a global pandemic because Larry and his crew predicted it 14 years ago! I’m kidding, of course. But, how crazy would you have sounded if you had said to your partner 14 years ago, “Honey, I really think we need to stock up on canned goods and toilet paper in the event of a global pandemic?” The lesson learned here is simple: determining how much risk actually exists may require research, expert advice, and difficult conversations with your family, team, or business partners.

Step 4: Place Your Bets

Households and businesses have a finite number of resources to spread around. Preparing for the future is a bit like gambling.

I love playing craps in a casino. A crap table is a microcosm of life. It has some of the best and worst odds in the casino, and they’re all on one table. In craps, as in life, you can make smart, conservative bets or you can make foolish bets that could pay big. The choice is yours: Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. That’s life.

Preparing for the unexpected also requires placing bets or allocating resources. This is an area where I help leadership teams understand the power of their individual and collective mindsets, and how they impact planning for the future.

What I’ve discovered is that people, who I call “futurists,” tend to have more appetite for risk. Futurists also tend to have strong instincts about what the future holds. Of the hundreds of leaders whom I’ve studied, about 2.5% of them have a futurist mindset. Whereas the majority of people (68%) demonstrate measurable differences and behaviors associated with with not losing, rather than placing big bets on the future.

As you determine when, where, and how to invest in the future, keep in mind that mindsets matter.

Step 5: Stock Up

Preparing for the unexpected requires taking stock, placing bets, and then stocking up. This is the action step. You have to invest time, money, and energy to improve your readiness for the unexpected.

In these times of pandemic, cash is king for businesses and households alike. Stockpiling cash for a rainy day or an emergency is never a bad idea. But you have to be smart about how much of a given thing (toilet paper included)that you are willing or may need to stockpile. There is risk and cost associated with stockpiling a cache of goods. This is why assessing your risk tolerance and allocating your resources accordingly are necessary precursors to stocking up.

Step 6: Stay Sprightly and Resilient

Finally, managing your energy and health and staying resilient are essential for preparing for the unexpected. It can be emotionally draining to live in the future — always anticipating, scenario-planning, and weighing probabilities.

Change takes its toll on the mind, body, and spirit. Staying present — living in the moment — and appreciating today are important to keep in mind. Those who proactively attend to their well being are, in fact, making investments in their future ability to bounce-back from the unexpected. Investing in your health and well-being is always a smart investment.

The bottom line is this: No one is ever “ready” for the future. However, some people and businesses are better prepared for the future than others. I hope these easy steps help you and yours expect, and prepare for, the unexpected.

--

--

Chris Groscurth, Ph.D.

Leadership Advisor and Author of Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. He blogs at Leadership4iR.com