Conduct a “Pre-Mortem.”

When I was at the SXSW Interactive conference last week, I had the chance to meet Guy Kawasaki. I'm a big fan of his work, and I'd interviewed him, but I'd never met him in person.

Guy has worn many hats – entrepreneur, investment banker, venture capitalist, and general visionary. He’s written eight books and founded an extremely useful website, Alltop.

In Austin, he was signing copies of his new New York Times bestseller, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions. The book contains a lot of interesting ideas, but I was most struck by Guy's suggestion to "Conduct a 'pre-mortem.'"

After death, examiners do a post-mortem ("after death") to determine the cause of death. In business, it's common (though not common enough) to do a post-mortem, to understand why an initiative did or didn't succeed.

Guy cites Gary Klein's Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions for the idea to Conduct a pre-mortem.

In a pre-mortem, you sit down, think about what you want to happen, and imagine that your efforts failed. Then you figure out what you should have done differently to change the outcome.

I immediately realized how helpful this strategy could be. I wish I'd known to try it when planning the launch of my paperback. For some reason -- the way our minds work -- we approach a challenge differently when we're looking forward to it than when we imagine looking back on it. I can think of several things I would have done differently, or thought to do it all, if I'd done a pre-mortem.

With so many endeavors, I can't completely control success, so it's a comfort to know that I've done everything I could have done. That way, even in the face of failure, I have no regrets. A friend told me, "I did everything within my powers to get that fellowship. There was not one more thing I could have done. So I don't feel bad at all about the fact that I didn't get it. I did what I could."

Have you ever tried a "pre-mortem" or other strategies to help yourself look at a problem in a fresh way?

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* Many thoughtful readers sent me the link to this terrific post about Happiness Engineering by Scott Adams, of The Dilbert Blog. Definitely worth a read.

* The paperback of The Happiness Project hit the New York Times bestseller list again in its second week! Buy early, buy often, buy in bulk.
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