Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

I was chatting to my boss today and asked for an update on an email trail.  We had a conversation and then he asked why it mattered as the subject probably wouldn’t crop up again, to which my response was that I’d rather be prepared in case it did recur rather than be fighting a rearguard action.

This brought to mind a phrase which my mentor had used in the past: hope for the best, prepare for the worst.  It’s also one which I have played back to others and which seems to resonate with most people.

But the concept isn’t new, it’s not even recent.  My favourite quote on the subject comes from Sun Tzu:

The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.

How often have I sat through a presentation only to watch it derail as a predictable question causes the presenter to flounder? Perhaps Sun Tzu is cautioning against the complacency which suggests that some questions are therefore unexpected?

There are many techniques to prepare for the worst, but I think that two of them will cover just about any situation:

  • PPPPPPP: I first saw this abbreviation thirty years ago and it’s still as relevant.  It means: Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance
  • always have an escape route: I don’t mean literally, but a couple of phrases which will buy you time are invaluable. For example
    • “that’s a very interesting point, but it could take longer to address than I should spend on one subject. If you’d like to chat afterwards I’d be happy to go through it with you.”
    • “I’m not certain and I don’t want to give you an inaccurate answer, but if you leave me your contact details I’ll be sure to double check and drop you an email.”

Do you have some helpful, back-pocket phrases for use in case of emergency? And what techniques do you employ to prepare for the worst?

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