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Ounce Of Prevention

Overcoming unexpected obstacles is the best time to put your problem-solving skills to the test, right? Think again. Better yet, think ahead.

Rather than spending so much time solving problems, Andrew DuBrin says you should concentrate more on preventing them. DuBrin, an industrial psychologist and professor of management at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, believes being proactive in anticipating problems and taking steps to prevent them is far more beneficial than patching things up after the fact. Makes sense, right? Here are DuBrin's suggestions for preventing problems:

  • Develop your intuition. To practice and measure your intuition, think about what you think might happen, deal with what happens, and then go back and review how on target you were. If you weren't on target, ask yourself what threw you off. If your hunch was bad, try to figure out what you can do next time to make your intuition more accurate.
  • Trust your intuition and visualize worst-case scenarios. Think about problems before they occur and plan how you'll deal with them. For example, what happens if your computer crashes? In a large office with a technical support staff, you just call for help. But if you're by yourself in your homebased office, who do you call to quickly get your system back online? Figuring that out before you're actually in that position can prevent a lot of headaches. Or, what do you do if your initial sales projections fail to materialize? Do you have a financial contingency plan? This is not an exercise in negativity, DuBrin stresses, but rather a way to prepare yourself so manageable problems don't become major disasters.
  • Pay attention to early warning signals. "Look for little signs that could mean that there's trouble ahead," says DuBrin. If you're feeling anxious, figure out why. If sales dip - even slightly - be sure you understand the reason.
  • Avoid bad decision-making. DuBrin says the most common error in decision-making is to accept the first good solution that comes along, rather than taking the time to find the best alternative. Also, he cautions, never make decisions when you're emotional; delay action for a day or so until you've calmed down and can think clearly.

Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 12 years ago and has been writing about business and management issues from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.

This story appears in the May 1999 issue of Startups. Subscribe »