In our industry, “adverse event” is a term that refers to something very specific – a side effect of a medication. But what about the non-drug-related “adverse events” that we all face at work? Your project gets cancelled. The event you’re running goes disastrously. You don’t know what comes next in your career.
No matter how much you love what you do, or how talented you are at it, things don’t always go perfectly. And when things go wrong – maybe even especially when you do good work that you care about – it can be a struggle to get back on track.
For a quick reset, to focus, to address your challenge from a new perspective, or just to get started, here are a set of questions to ask yourself – and then a set of questions you should NEVER ask – whenever you’re facing adversity:
- What’s working with my current course of action? Just because something’s gone wrong, doesn’t mean everything’s gone wrong. Regain your perspective by remembering what’s still on track.
- What really has gone wrong? Define the problem. It might feel big, but when you outline it, it might look different.
- Why? If you’re familiar with six sigma methodology, you’ll know the “five whys” technique. State the problem, then ask yourself “why?” Answer, then ask it again. Repeat three times to unearth the true root cause of the issue.
- What in this situation is in my control? Perhaps you have a say in the teammates, or even in what actions happen in which order. Figure out all of the ways in which you can act before you automatically make a decision.
- What isn’t? It’s good to know your parameters. You might not be able to alter the timeline or the necessary outcome, for instance.
- What does success look like? You’re proud of your creativity, right? Use it! Let your imagination loose and paint a picture of the desired end state.
- Yes, and? This is an exercise that improv performers use, to help them build off each other, rather than shut down new creative avenues.
- What does failure look like? Sometimes we’re terrified of a vague doom – but when we really consider exactly what that might realistically be, it’s a lot more manageable. Admit what you’re afraid of and look it in the eye.
- Can I walk away for five minutes? The best ideas don’t always come from a brainstorm session or a “war room” meeting. Sometimes they come when you’re taking a walk outside or when you’ve slept on the problem.
- What’s the best next step? Find a small start and make it. It feels like you’re already partway there, and that can be enormously motivating.
- Who can I ask for help? We often assume we must solve everything ourselves.
… and STOP asking yourself these questions.
- Why don’t things ever go my way?
- What did I do to deserve this?
- How can I shift the blame?
- Who can I complain to?
- What busywork can I do to avoid taking real action?
When hit with “adverse events” of any kind, self-pity and avoidance just make things worse. Creative persistence can make downturns into learning experiences, and challenges into new horizons.
For more on this topic, check out “Staying Creative in the Face of ‘No’”