Pre-mortem – one way to potentially avoid the untimely death of a plan or project

A devil’s advocate is unpopular anywhere. The premortem procedure gives cover to a cowardly skeptic who otherwise might not speak up.


We may be able to develop a narrative about or make a bet on what we hope/intend to happen in the future. But we know that things rarely work out precisely the way we had planned. Much of the end product is tied up in the process of saying, doing and making, as Holt and Cornelissen point out. Nonetheless, we crave direction and optimism if not certainty. Isn’t that what being a visionary leader is all about?

A recent online article by Richard Thaler, one of the originators of behavioural economics, suggests that some problems and failures might be averted by conducting a pre-mortem, an approach based on “prospective hindsight” and originally devised by Gary Klein.

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Innovation through placing a bet and doing multiple experiments

The whole idea is this: if you really want to be innovative, you have to experiment. If you know the outcome of what you’re going to do, it’s not an experiment. It’s more like a demonstration.

Amazon’s vice president for global innovation policy and communications, Paul Misener

Introducing this kind of approach to innovation into most organisations takes a fair bit of courage, a shift in mindset about causality and the exercise of a range of somewhat different skills and capabilities.

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Words in their speaking

We don’t just use words and language to name and describe things. More often than not our words are designed to do things: to direct; to evoke; to command; to unsettle and to pacify or calm – and much more!.

As obvious as this may seem, and as central as it is to how we go about our everyday business, we generally have very limited awareness of this aspect of our own involvement in the various circumstances that go to make up the multitude of intersecting worlds we inhabit.

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