Don't Be An Ostrich

Quick Summary: Be careful not to ignore potential, negative outcomes because they may be uncomfortable.


Ignoring obvious, negative, potential outcomes is a common occurrence.  We all know that ignoring a problem seldom diminishes its likelihood of occurrence or its impacts.  There is, however, a tendency to suppress the possibility of negative outcomes.  It is tough to overcome the reluctance to discuss anything but positive outcomes.  Ask any life insurance sales rep about the difficulty of discussing a person’s eventual mortality.  Help individuals share their concerns early and often in order to have enough time to develop appropriate response and not last-minute reactions.

We have all seen cartoons with an ostrich with its head buried in the sand with some clever caption.  Unfortunately, those cartoons are often a reality when discussing competition, competitive threats, and lost sales.  Another story and caricature that seems to equally apply is the “Emperor’s New Clothes” in which everyone was afraid to tell the emperor that he was wearing nothing.  Today’s business setting demands that everyone be a “team player” and enthusiastically support the company no matter what.  Unfortunately, the result can be that many individuals understand but do not share a harsher and, perhaps disappointing, view of reality until it is too late.  The after-the-fact common statement of “I knew it” or the whispered “I told you so” seem to always surface.  Even asking for dissenting opinions or promoting open dialogue may not be enough to overcome the reluctance to surface potential problem areas for fear of being labeled a naysayer.

It is virtually impossible to develop competitive strategies until the potential negative outcomes are voiced and understood.  An effective method of accumulating potentially less than positive outcomes is to create a non-threatening forum in which individuals with varying responsibilities and areas of expertise can openly express their opinions.  In a group setting, ask a leading “fill-in-the-blanks” statement and ask each participant in round-robin fashion, to provide an answer.  Collect every response with no debate, allowing others to only ask clarifying questions.  Continue the sequential fill-in-the-blank process until no one has any additional inputs.  Some possible leading statements are:

  • A likely reason that we cannot gain a prospect’s attention about our offering is…
  • The fundamental prospect problem that we address is…
  • If the prospect embraces our approach, they will …
  • The other prospect activities that may have higher priorities than ours are…
  • The prospect may not move ahead with our offering now because…
  • A very real, competitive threat that we know but seldom discuss is…
  • Probably the major reason that the prospect did not decide to move forward with us is…

Any of these statements will generally lead to others that will not only help to identify areas that can be addressed but will also help to quantify focus resource allocations and where to ignore or walk away from potential opportunities.

Think of the difference in perspective an ostrich would have with their long legs and long neck standing upright and scanning the horizon for signs of danger versus standing still with their head buried in the ground.  Which position should you be in?   


Article Number : 5.070202   

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