Look for the Unexpected

I was doing a presentation for a client this week and was intrigued by a meeting taking place near them in the conference center. Many of the attendees were wearing clothing with a zebra motif, which was certainly attention getting.

I saw blouses, scarves, a bow tie and suspenders, and even a plush zebra jumpsuit and formal man’s suit.

Finally, I asked one of the attendees about the zebra theme. Her company supports research in rare infectious diseases. She explained that doctors often look for the expected when diagnosing, but the key in rare diseases is to look for the unexpected.

She used this analogy: if you were in a forest and heard hooves behind you, you’d probably think it was a horse. But when you turn around, you might see a zebra, that is, the unexpected. In their work, you need to be prepared for the zebra.

This intrigued me as I thought about how leaders prepare for the unexpected. This can be anything ranging from coverage when employees are on vacation to anticipating something wacky from a client who tends to be erratic.

When you know that something unexpected may happen, you can put some steps in place as a “pre-readiness” plan. It’s better to do something rather than leaving it to chance (to use a current event, think corona virus).

Create brief scenario plans as you anticipate different outcomes that may arise from something uncertain. You won’t be able to formalize anything until you have certainty, but you will have thought about possible options in advance.

Looking for the unexpected is a skill that will serve you well and can keep you prepared for random changes.

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