How to Think Ahead and Pivot in a Crisis

Thinking ahead will help us deal with this crisis, and avert the next one.

Posted Mar 23, 2020

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

In a 2015 TED talk, Bill Gates predicted a global outbreak and urged us to do something to prevent it; similarly, the epidemiologist Larry Brilliant tried to warn us in 2006 that a global pandemic was coming, and that it could be potentially catastrophic.

Sadly, these compelling, intelligent, and well-respected voices were not enough to spur the rest of us into action before the current pandemic became reality.  

Maybe if more of us had a practice of thinking ahead, we would have paid more attention to the epidemiologists and others who tried to show us what they saw. 

As humans, we have the capacity to think ahead about the consequences of our own actions. If more of us do this, we might have a better chance of dealing effectively with the current crisis and averting the next one.

We can all start making it a practice to think ahead, as a chess master does on a chessboard, to mitigate the unintended consequences of our actions, and to prevent disasters. In Optimal Outcomes, I offer specific practices to think ahead to ensure that our actions make any situation we’re in better, not worse. 

But today, instead of focusing on the word “ahead” in the phrase “think ahead” I want to emphasize the word “think”.

Just as our current circumstances are helping us notice many of the things we once took for granted, like the ability to go to a live concert or meet a friend for coffee, I hope we will now also stop taking for granted our ability to think. 

Pay Attention to How You Think

We have the power to intentionally direct our thinking if we choose to. 

The best way I know to do this is to identify a series of questions, and then allow ourselves to ponder the questions. In other words, to think.

Chess master Josh Waitzkin suggests a process of identifying questions and then selecting what he calls a Most Important Question (MIQ) for each day. The MIQ process can help us ensure that we are asking constructive, future-oriented questions. (In fact, the process we use to identify our questions is a worthy thought experiment in itself.)

Once we’ve identified our MIQ (or a series of MIQs), then we need to think. 

However, if you’re anything like me, you may never have specifically learned how to think. Although I am grateful for the excellent education I’ve been given, I somehow managed to get through 13 years of public education in New York City, plus nine years of college and graduate education without ever specifically considering how to do my best thinking. 

If this may be true for you as well, take a moment to ask yourself: What does it take for you to really think? 

Having considered this question lately, I find it helps me to take a walk. (If I have my phone with me, I put it in my pocket and promise myself I will only take it out in case of emergency, or I will only use it after a certain amount of time spent thinking).

I have to make the conditions ripe for active use of my thinking capacity. This means I’m not creating space for meditating, or identifying my emotions, or talking, or listening, or using any of the five senses. Those are all different, worthy, exercises. 

If I want to think, I pose a question to myself. Then I think about the question, and I record whatever ideas or answers arise. Finally, I ask myself what small, experimental steps I can take to move forward, based on my answers.

Some good questions to ask ourselves right now:

  • How might this quarantine/coronavirus impact my life, my industry, the world over the long-term? (To get your juices flowing, see some experts' answers here.)
  • How can I pivot my life, career, business, industry, so I can help create a new reality that I will be proud of once the quarantine ends?
  • What lessons can we, as a global society, learn from this experience?
  • How can I live my life differently, do my part to help prevent another crisis like this from occurring?

If you take the time to pose these or other worthy questions to yourself, your answers will come. You may need to be patient. It may take some time. But your answers will come. And when they do, make sure you have a pen, voice recorder, or type pad available to record them. And then, get ready to take small actions, step by step, based on your answers.

What MIQs (Most Important Questions) would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments below.