Friday, March 8, 2013

The Carly Simon Principle: Anticipation

Ever wonder why people scramble to get things done at the last minute?  

As an adjunct professor, I discovered two groups of people in my classes:
  1. People who deliberately plan to get things done and work on them day by day.
  2. People who relish the pressure of the deadline and wait until the last minute, then pump themselves full of Red Bull and work 'heroically' through the night to get something done.

While the workloads were exactly the same, when the deadline arrived, one group of students were exhausted and relieved, while the other group walked into class relaxed and confident. 

There's a lesson here: It's the Carly Simon Principle of Anticipation.  While her song is an emotional expression of breathless waiting for someone, the principle of anticipating the arrival of someone (or something) causes us to be vigilant, alert and prepared. 

Anticipation has a close corollary: ProAction ... in short, acting before the crisis hits, preparing now for the future inevitability, working in advance.

Anticipating something and acting to prepare provides benefits to you which cannot be overstated:

  1. You're ready before the crisis hits.
  2. You have more time to manage what you did NOT foresee.
  3. You can manage the emotions of the moment much better than if you had waited until the last minute.
  4. You're going to be perceived as a wise and strong leader. 

How do you know if you have this skill?

  1. When you see something brewing that could potentially go wrong, do you wait until the last minute, or do you act to fix the issue?
  2. When you see something that could work to everyone's advantage, do you act or let the opportunity slide?
  3. When you have a good idea, do you write it down or just let it vanish into the ether?

How do you build it?

Trust your gut.  If you sense something is wrong, take the time to think it through.


One of my change mantras is "Reduce anxiety to increase adaptation."  The skill of anticipating and acting helps to reduce anxiety, helping people to adapt to the "new" ... whatever that is.

If you keep your people in crisis mode all the time, they will burn out.  Give them a chance to think ahead, to prepare for the challenge, and they will speak well of your leadership. 

Anticipate, then act. 

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