There is tremendous value in thinking of alternatives to any situation and creating backup plans. Some of the best advice that I've ever been given -- and that works exceptionally well in dealing with both business and personal issues -- came from my mother. Whenever things got tough and situations seemed insurmountable or hopeless, my mother would say, "So what?" Asking "So what?" allows you to open windows when you feel as though all the doors are shut. "So what?" pushes you to think against the grain, imagine the worst-case scenario and devise new options.
"So what?" can be one of your most unusual and effective personal-management tools. It will help you pursue opportunities that may seem out of the norm but that have extraordinary potential, and it will be an important approach for crafting alternative solutions to challenges that arise seemingly out of nowhere.
There are three important mental advantages that asking yourself "So what?" delivers:
1. It frees your mind from being stuck so that you can see new alternatives.
2. It stimulates fresh thinking and renewed focus.
3. It helps you create new strategies and contingency plans.
I've divided the approach to using the power of "So what?" into four main sections:
Step 1: Think necessity
The best way to start thinking against the grain and challenging expectation is to organize and prioritize. You need to allow yourself to think of everything that you want to accomplish. This allows you to think what would be incredible to achieve and then ask what you need to do to get there.
Step 2: Identify the worst-case scenario
Once you have identified your needs and have come up with one or two usable ideas, ask, "What are all the things that can go wrong?" Then think about what you would do if in fact the worst case occurs. This is your dose of stone-sober reality and a necessary part of harnessing the power of "So what?" Everyone feels better with a plan; facing the realities of what can go wrong can only make you -- and your business plan -- stronger.
Step 3: Mourn the loss
This step is critical, because each of the worst-case scenarios is a scary potential idea squasher. It's important to think about all that could go wrong and make peace with it. That's what mourning the loss is -- it's coming to terms with the risks involved in creative thinking and putting them into realistic perspective. This allows you to acknowledge that likely some, sometimes many, but rarely all of those worst-case scenarios will happen. Once you've done that, it's time to think about all the unforeseen good variables that could happen. Adding positive variables lightens the risk. By creating a balanced perspective, you can now devise some contingency plans, so you are prepared for a managed amount of failure and success.
Step 4: Repackage
Once you know your needs, have created usable solutions and have recognized and evaluated the liabilities associated with those solutions, it's time to repackage and ask, "So what?" again. You need to do this over and over with each possible loss. In so doing you will gain a sense of clarity and strength and begin to see new possibilities and routes. You must identify, mourn and accept before you can start creating new routes.
Harnessing the power of "So what?" allows you to create new ways of thinking, to see hidden opportunities and to realize possibilities.
Excerpted with permission of Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
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