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Excerpt from The Prepared Mind

Chance Favors the Prepared Mind

"Chance favors the prepared mind" was the statement Louis Pasteur, the 19 century scientist, used to describe his remarkable ability to invent and innovate across a complex set of problems.

When you look at Pasteur's accomplishments - from his studies of crystallization and fermentation that aided industries ranging from dairying to silk-making to his work with germs and microorganisms that opened up whole new fields of scientific inquiry -- you can see that he was truly ready for chance to "happen" to him.

Pasteur's observation on the significance of a "prepared mind" was in the back of our minds as we looked at organizational successes and failures across a variety of industries, economic conditions and business environments and observed the behaviors of the leaders of these organizations. We saw consistencies, and we wondered what the basis for these consistencies was and how they developed. What was going on beneath the surface of leader behaviors? What were they thinking or, in some cases, not thinking, as they made their decisions?

We believe "the prepared mind" is the hallmark of 21 century leaders who are remarkable in their ability to sense, make sense, decide and act across a complex set of conditions. We also believe that "the prepared mind" is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of intentional preparation and that is the purpose of this book: to help you build the skills of Prepared Mind leadership.

Prepared Mind Leadership

In our working definition of Prepared Mind leadership, we see leadership as the practice of continuously envisioning opportunities for growth within complex, dynamic environments, built upon core principles the organization is committed to sustaining and using as the basis for value delivered to all of its stakeholders. Implied in our definition is that leaders, no matter where they are in the organization, are strategists in terms of making opportunities explicit and knowing why and when and how to move into and navigate the various problems and opportunities they face.

You can be an individual contributor or a "box on the organizational chart" and still act as a leader in your organization, or fail to do so. Prepared Mind leadership is not limited by formal roles. In fact, the more we looked at acts of leadership, the more we realized the power, the responsibility and the risk of "acting outside the narrow confines of your job description." Furthermore, in this era of continuously shifting boundaries and relationships, and shorter job and strategy shelf lives, successful people learn to do just that, for their own good and for the good of their organizations. It's an organizational requirement that you perform your job and perform it well. But leadership is a voluntary act.

Whether you hold a position of leadership in the traditional sense or decide that you are someone who will choose to "step outside the strict confines of their job description," the intent of this book is to help you develop the skills of a Prepared Mind leader.

The Skills of a Prepared Mind

Good leadership, like so many other things in life, is seen through a combination of skills. And, like so many other things in life, you don't just "get better" at leadership; you improve your skills by regular practice. To use a sports metaphor, a good golfer has driving skills, putting skills, "rough" skills, bunker skills, and so on. He or she is only good because of practice. And as we looked at organizational successes and failures in their innovation, decision making, and problem solving, we looked for mental skills that were being used or were absent. We see eight fundamental skills delineating a Prepared Mind leader:


The environment in which we live and operate is constantly changing. Now, it's natural for us to look for confirming information about our view of the world, but it's often more important to look for disconfirming information. What are you observing lately?


People will want to know why you are proposing a course of action and will not follow your lead until they understand your explanation. What are your answers to the "why?" question?


The future is unknowable, but it can be visualized. Established industries, companies, policies, practices, etc. are always challenged by new (imagined) ideas. What's running through your mind these days?


Any organization's business is built on assumptions. When is the last time you challenged your assumptions and tested their validity?


Face it, you get paid to make or influence decisions because action is essential to progress. Are you progressing or paralyzed?


Past knowledge got you to where you are today. It may or may not be effective in continuing to move you forward. What don't you know that you should?


You may be smart, but progress requires a concerted effort for any organization. Do the people around you have the knowledge and the means and, most importantly, the opportunity to progress?


All decisions have trade-offs. We need to look at past decisions and understand the trade-offs we made and the consequences of those trade-offs. We also need to reflect-forward (envision) and consider the trade-offs we are about to make. The problem is that we are time-starved and never seem to have the time to "just think." Have you spent any quiet thinking time lately?


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The prepared mind of the leader: Eight skills leaders use to innovate, make decisions, and solve problems.
Observe. Reason. Imagine. Challenge. Decide. Learn. Enable. Reflect.
Bill Welter, Adaptive Strategies Inc.,
Jean Egmon, Third Angle, Inc.,
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