I recently saw an amazing example of organizational preparation for "what might happen". It was at a symphony concert, featuring one of the top women violin soloists in the world, Rachel Barton Pine.
During an aggressively-played performance, I heard a "plink" that shouldn't have been there. She had broken a string (on an instrument insured for $7 million). None of that was amazing, although I had never before seen a soloist break a string in a full orchestra performance. The music stopped, and the audience was expecting some confusion on stage -- at least a 5-10 minute break in the piece being performed
-- while the string was replaced.
Didn't happen that way. Without hesitation, she turned to the Concertmaster
(1st chair/1st stand violinist), handed her instrument to him, and he exchanged his with her. Even that wasn't really amazing -- he was the closest person at hand who had what she needed -- a working violin.
The amazing part was what happened next. The Concertmaster, as the leader of the violin section, needs to be playing, and he needed a violin, as well. The 2nd person on the same
stand handed him her violin. And THEN the last person at the back of the 1st violin section walked forward, exchanged his instrument with the stronger player, took the injured violin, and walked off the stage.
Meanwhile, the conductor had determined where to pick up the performance. He looked at the soloist, said "189?" (the measure number in the score), she nodded, he raised his baton and the performance resumed in less than a minute of total elapsed time.
Behind the scenes, then, the broken string was replaced, and during the applause following the first number the soloist's violin was returned to her and everyone else swapped violins back down the line.
What does this have to do with business?
We often analyze and try to learn from the aftermath of an event. This was an extraordinary case of "beforemath". I talked with both the guest artist and the orchestra members after the concert and learned that she had never before broken a string in a symphony performance. She had, however, thought about what she would do if that ever happened. The orchestra had never seen a soloist break a string before, either. Likewise, they had talked about (although not actually practiced) what they would do if that happened. Their forethought about an unlikely, but easily imaginable event made what could have otherwise been a disruption to a great performance into a "business as usual" incident.
Do our own organizations spend enough time on "beforemath"? Are you ready for things that are unlikely, but in fact might happen? Perhaps an upcoming staff meeting or offsite session would be a good place to spend an hour or so with your team brainstorming a list of things that deserve a "beforemath" plan.
Chief Executive Boards International