Don’t forget to think about success

If you’re like the person I was talking to last week, you spend many hours speculating things that can go wrong. Okay well, maybe not hours, but at least somewhere throughout the planning process, the thorny question of ‘what if X bad thing happens?’ will pop above the parapets.

Lots of energy will also get spent on planning what is supposed to happen (we’ll leave the futility of the resulting plans for another time). But what about success?

I’m not talking about the success predicted from your plans. Rather a wildly improbable, shake-the-foundations kind of success. The kind of success that ripples out and affects things you hadn’t begun to consider.

To learn more about using the ripple effect, click here.

This was the kind of success Deborah Shaw, head of creative programming and interpretation at Historic Royal Palaces had to deal with. In 2014 a temporary art installation at the Tower of London took hold of the public’s imagination and led to an unprecedented outpouring of interest.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red marked 100 years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War with 888,246 ceramic poppies progressively filling the tower’s moat over a five month period. Each poppy represented a British military fatality during the war.

Five million people visited the installation. It was so popular it created logjams in the public transportation networks, required dedicated customer service call lines to field requests, and when it was time to close, created a public and political outcry to keep it open.

Runaway success like that is rare. However big and small success that exceeds expectations happens more often and in all parts of the organisation. Yet how often do you plan for success? More likely you look at what might go wrong and, what achieving the goal looks like. A plan if you exceed expectations? Well isn’t that just courting trouble…

Thinking through the ramifications of success isn’t just about being optimistic or hoping it goes well. It’s not even pre-empting success that may never come. It is applying the same rigour and thinking to the potential effects of both success and failure.

It’s having the plans in your pocket, so you’re prepared when 5 million people line up to visit your poppies.

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