How to (more) accurately predict the future and achieve team goals

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

-Thomas Edison

Like the Edison quote states: Execution is everything. So I’m making an assumption that you’ve hired well and have formed a team with a proven track record of creating results. This means they know how to get things done. Execution is what sets apart top performers from average. Elite performers separate themselves from top performers because not only do they execute, they can think critically and independently.

You can create a team of elite performers who make great decisions and take ownership of their results by developing their ability to imagine the future.

First ask: Why did we succeed?

There are two parts to imagining the future: focus on the good and on the bad.

By using an activity called backcasting, a team imagines a positive result and how they got there.

Here is how to do it:

  • Bring your team together.
  • Prior to this meeting have a designer create some mock-up positive press for your company’s webpage, social feeds, and in important publications for your industry.
  • They should all read something to the effect of: “COMPANY NAME ACHIEVES THEIR GOAL.”
  • Now harness the excitement of your team, tap into their creativity and ask, “How did we achieve how goal?” List all the reasons.
  • When your team sputters pause and ask, “Anything else?”

Does it work? Positive visualization can help increase a team’s ability to predict a future outcome by 30%.

Then ask: Why did we fail?

Now that you’ve considered a positive result, it’s time to go dark.

We all know post-mortems. They help doctors determine the cause of death after someone has died. By using a pre-mortem your team can predict why a project failed.

The steps:

  • Just like you did in the previous section have a designer create mock-ups with headlines that share a very different message: “COMPANY NAME FAILS IN ACCOMPLISHING THEIR GOAL.”
  • And just like the previous section, ask your team what got in the way and what derailed the project.
  • Continue to dig when they seem to be out of ideas.
  • Completing a pre-mortem helps provide a complete view of the future.

NYU Psychology Professor, Gabriele Oettingen, has studied negative visualization for decades. Her research found that those who imagine obstacles in the way of achieving their goals are more likely to achieve success compared to those who don’t.

Pre-mortems help us plan for the future by identifying obstacles before they occur. This in turn equips our team to make better choices while executing the vision.

Now, go plant a tree

Predicting the future is difficult, it requires sound decisions along the way.

The best way to set your team up for success is by engaging in a robust exploration of both a positive and negative future. Backcasting and pre-mortems are two sides of the same coin. They represent all the potential directions a project might go before realizing the final outcome. Now plant all those potential futures on a decision tree; the positive and negative routes must add up to 100% since they represent all plausible paths that could occur while engaged in a project.

Having a realistic view of what is possible, both the good and the bad, is the best way to empower your team to make sound decisions and have ownership of results.

By providing a platform for robust thinking to occur, all that’s left is making sure the team has the resources needed to be a success and giving feedback along the way to keep everyone focused on the goal.

Host of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast with over one million downloads 🚀