I thought I knew what it meant to be prepared but time and again, I am put in the position that shows that I have still much to learn. This is a list of seven things to keep in mind in your quest to be better prepared. Especially useful when you are preparing for an event, whether it’s an event of a personal nature (something you are gearing up for, that may or may not involve other people) or a public one (where there could potentially be an audience, small or large). It is equally useful when handling projects or needing to manage people as well.
1. Be sure you know your subject matter – important, yet not critical.
Subject matter familiarity is something I have come to understand a little more deeply as time goes by. In the younger days, I was under the impression that subject matter grasp was of critical importance – it could make or break you. But in the realms I have explored, there has been more than one occasion in which I have explored/ventured/maintained sustained interest in an area/field in which I lacked any real familiarity – and that would be putting it mildly.
What sustained me through the journey that occasionally consisted of high levels of paranoia and doubt was the knowledge and belief that this was something I was really interested in, felt strongly about and was willing to undergo failure in my quest to learn more.
In short, while it is important for you to know your subject matter, what is more important is that you have an interest in it first. Knowledge is the easy bit and there are many ways to skin that cat that don’t necessarily involve you burning the midnight oil. Developing and maintaining a good network of contacts, people who are subject matter experts as well, can hold you in good stead, as you journey forward.
While you should not rely on this exclusively, this point is meant to show you that there are other factors just as important as subject matter expertise. For example, you might already be aware of presentations, while excellent in subject matter, which flop due to exceedingly poor presentation skills.
2. Understand the points at which you can fail.
Being prepared is a strange place to be in. You are excited about something you’re about to embark on – you have the passion, the interest and the drive. This is what takes you forward. You have to embrace all of this while simultaneously considering every conceivable way in which your endeavour can fail. This is awkward, to say the least, to toggle between two vastly different mindsets but it’s critical to your success.
If you can see the many ways in which you can fail, you are better prepared. You can take the necessary steps to avert potential disasters. The problem with that is that sometimes, it requires too much hard work. You may like to think that steps 1- 3 will go through as you’d like it to and maybe you’d much prefer to skip a step or two. But moving forward in the assumption that things will go well, never prepares you for failure. You just make the assumption and move ahead, blissfully unaware.
Moving ahead, all the while, consumed by the various ways in which tragedy can strike however, enables you to plan meticulously well.
Realise the various ways and points at which your work crosses with someone else’s. Make a point to note when your actions are reliant on someone else’s understanding of your game plan or someone else’s actions based on your expectations. Communicating your intentions and plans is never as easy as it seems, even when the communication process itself seems unassumingly easy.
3. Check and cross check.
To put mini heart attacks at bay, put steps in place to enable you to get a taster. For example, if you are asking someone to contribute a written opinion piece or do a presentation at a conference, get a taster as quickly as you can.
This could be a summary of the intended article or a copy of the slides for the presentation. In this way, you don’t have to wait for the final delivery of artwork/column/presentation to gain awareness of what you have bought into.
4. Have a chat – simple as that.
In your race to check off your to-do list or even to keep a paper trail, you may sometimes lose focus as to what is most effective or what makes more sense. For example, you might have heard stories of colleagues who bat emails off to each other when they sit in the same room or on the same floor. It may simply be more efficient to get up, walk over and ask whatever it is that we need to check on.
The reason you sometimes engage in endless email or fail to go down the simplest path is because you’ve become used to a particular way of working and that you often engage in auto-pilot activity. The key is to maintain a level of awareness about what you are doing and the effectiveness of your methods. Failure to do so will result not in you actively seeking to make these terrible conscious choices but simply falling into them.
5. Not everyone operates on your timeline.
You live in a world of your making and so much of what happens in your world happens within your perspective, sometimes unseen by others. What this means is that your priorities, choices and even perspectives, which may be crystal clear to you, may not always be so, to the person you are talking to.
While it would be easy for you to simply say that you made your point clear, if indeed you did, that in itself is no guarantee that others will come around and see things from your perspective and therefore, agree. It is the combination of your experiences, your relationships and your self and how you make sense of the inter-relationship between these various parts that come together in a myriad number of ways to present you with your choices and your perspectives.
Necessarily, those outside these elements, swayed by other elements not of your making or knowledge, will necessarily be impacted by their own set of circumstances and factors. Even if you were successful in conveying your thoughts, impressions, attitudes and preferences, people are bound to think differently based on how they perceive a situation or element.
In that sense, you have to operate, for your own sanity, on the presumption that not everyone operates on your timeline, appreciates your timeline or will endeavour to understand or accept the choices you make, or the manner in which you act your choices out. If you work with this fundamental assumption, you will be in a better position to deal with the curveballs that come your way.
6. What you consider the right thing to do is not always on the radar of someone else’s perspective.
A slight twist on the previous point. Based on the same logic as mentioned, it makes complete sense therefore that what you consider right or wrong, black or white, possible or impossible, may not appear as such to others. Consequently, while you may think that action A should result in reaction B, that does not always present itself as such.
7. Have a plan B even when it seems that there can’t be a plan B.
There are times when a Plan B sounds better than it really is and when for a variety of reasons, a Plan B is more problem than help. Don’t let that daunt you. Be always in the position where you feel you are in control even when you know that you are not.
The truth is that there are always bound to be elements that are outside your realm of control. But being in a position of control is more about understanding what limits are placed on you, what limits you are placing on yourself, making the critical distinction between the two and knowing that ultimately, you still have choice. While you may not want to carry out a particular step or plan, you still have choice. You may not like the choices presented to you but these are choices nevertheless.
Having a plan B makes good sense. It gives you a fallback position, it puts you in the frame of mind anticipating where and how things can go wrong and in so doing, better prepares you for eventualities. This is the essence of being prepared : understanding and developing awareness about the different perspectives and consequently, the choices you have available as a result.
This was never intended to be a conclusive list. What has come to guide my journey and impact how I make decisions now is this : done is better than perfect. We can wait till we fill ourselves up with every conceivable guideline, we can compile these huge checklists, we can polish and indulge in improvements and yet… never get around to delivering, constantly on the edge of the precipice, about to tip over. There’s beauty in that, but also a sense of incompleteness. When you fill yourself with all this sense of promise, you also fill yourself up with what is incomplete. It is better to go ahead, do it, get it wrong and keep going, reworking all the way.