Pearl Harbor, Foresight, and Change Implementation

In his book, The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, Leonard Mlodinow spends some time discussing the attack on Pearl Harbor. One of the points that he makes regarding the attack is that there were indicators in the behavior of the Japanese military which, in hindsight, could have served as predictors of the attack. Of course, hindsight is always far more acute than foresight, but it is acute foresight that project managers involved in change implementation need to have at their disposal.

A common problem that plagues change implementation projects is a lack of risk oriented planning. The irony is that, in many cases, lists have been compiled and discussions have taken place regarding the potential risks and pitfalls. What never materializes from these lists and discussions are tangible contingency plans to deal with those risks and pitfalls. So, if one is leading a change implementation project or has responsibility for Pearl Harbor during WWII, what can one do to improve foresight?

One means of improving foresight is to put sensors in place to get the necessary information before a small problem becomes a killer problem. For the military commander of Pearl Harbor who is anticipating an attack, this may mean assigning someone to monitor changes in radio communication or to watch an embassy for signs that the embassy is preparing to close. For the change implementation manager, this means monitoring data that has a history of showing impending dangers, encouraging team members to bring even small problems to your attention, and anticipating the worst scenarios that could occur so that a plan will be in place to deal with it.

While no one has perfect foresight, it is possible to improve the odds of a successful change implementation by being open to the possibility of disaster. As Louis Pasteur once asserted, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”