Momentum can take on a life all its own. As you near a deadline to close a sale, negotiate a deal or make a big decision, the inexorable push to complete it can undermine your better judgment.
expert Steve Wood calls this “transaction momentum.” As forces combine to create an environment ripe for a deal, it’s easy to ignore last-minute red flags to call it off.
The day before the Space Shuttle Challenger took off in 1986, a Morton Thiokol official warned NASA that the temperature at the Florida site the night before the fateful launch was expected to fall below 32 degrees. Morton Thiokol, maker of the O-rings that ultimately failed and caused the disaster, had never tested the O-rings at below-freezing temps.
But NASA’s leadership imposed a “prove something would fail” standard to justify halting a launch. There was no way to prove an unknown, so the tragedy unfolded the next day.
Wood recalls an instance of “transaction momentum” that hit closer to home: He ignored warning signs and proceeded with a business deal that proved a debacle.
Today, Wood applies a “pre-mortem” analysis that he learned from Gary Klein, author of Seeing What Others Don’t. It involves two steps:
- Imagine you’ve just made your decision or past your deadline—and the decision proved terrible or the project failed. Write all the reasons why you think things went sour.
- Write what actions you would have taken to ensure the project was a success.
Through this process, you and your team can root out causes of potential disasters and take measures to prevent costly, adverse outcomes.
— Adapted from “Leaders Should Do Pre-Mortems Not Post-Mortems,” Steve Wood, www.steveonleadership.com.