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Reframe - Pre-mortem


Google Yellow Manning

One of my favourite features of Google Maps is the ‘google yellow man’. One minute you are looking at the map and the next minute with a little drop of the ‘Google yellow man’ and you are there walking the street seeing the journey first hand that you could make.


My favourite story I share about ‘Google yellow man’ is my trip to Leicester. I had put a deposit down on a second-hand car and I needed to collect and pay for it. I had no one else to drive me there and so I planned to catch the train and walk to the car garage. I was slightly nervous about finding the venue of the garage, especially as the sellers had asked for cash and so I made my way on the train with seven grand in cash in a brown envelope stuffed inside my trousers. No- one was going to steal my car money! As I travelled on the train, I was reassured that my money would be safe as I reduced the risk of getting lost as I ‘Google yellow manned’ the journey and so knew where I was walking from the station. As I walked from the station, I did not need to hesitate at a junction as I had ‘walked this way’ before. I arrived safely, stopping just before the garage to remove a somewhat warm envelope of cash.


Calming the Chimp

One of the things about anxiety is that we spend our time worrying about what might happen in the future. Steve Peters, the author of The Chimp Paradox, describes our Amygdala which is the emotional centre of the brain as being like an agitated chimp. The chimp will look ahead at things and check to see if they are a threat. If it is, it will get agitated. One way to calm the chimp is to look at the things that could happen and then put in place risk reducers that reduce or stop them from happening. We can look at what can happen and plan our actions in response. In turn, this makes it less threatening as we have ‘walked this way before’ and we have ‘Google yellow manned’ the journey and so know what to do at each point. It is no longer scary.


The technical phrase for this approach is called ‘Pre-mortem’. We have heard of the phrase ‘Post-mortem’ which is to diagnose what happened after death. Pre-mortem is to predict what could happen, put things in place and therefore avoid it happening.


Leadership Pre-Mortem

Looking ahead, seeing what might happen and planning an action of how you could deal with it, is the basic principle of a ‘risk assessment’. For many ‘risk assessment’ has come to mean a dry and dusty document. We need to move away from this idea towards thinking about ‘google yellow manning’ to keep us safe and confident. The following questions can help us.


  • What things do I think could happen?

  • What will I do to manage them if they do happen?

  • Who might I get involved to help?

  • What might stop them from happening in the first place?


As we plan initiatives to improve a situation, we need to ‘Google yellow man’ and pre-mortem to consider what could go wrong and reduce the chance of it happening. This can also be useful in entering tricky meetings with someone. Ask yourself

How do I think they will react?

If they react that way, how will I respond?

You can end up with a decision tree diagram, which means you have thought through in your mind what might happen and it is now a surprise that catches you out if it does happen.


You can also consider this approach when someone asks you to take something on. Ask

  • If I take this on, what could happen to my time and energy?

  • If I take this on, what impact might it have on my other projects?


You can then decide what to do to limit the impact or if it will have too much of a negative impact on other things and not take it on.


The key thing with any ‘Google yellow man’ is to recognise if there is something tricky in the route to mitigate the risk and respond. If you went on a Google map and saw there was an obstacle or problem, you would choose a different route. The whole point of visualising is to help you make something a success.


For many people, it is hard to imagine a time of not having Google Maps on your phone to make a journey safer. I clearly remember a time as a teenager walking through the Elephant & Castle area of London late at night with my London AtoZ travelling back from visiting friends. As a boy from the countryside, it was a very unusual experience and I did not know where I was going and was imagining getting lost in London. We wouldn’t dream of not looking at the route beforehand or using maps whilst we travelled. The same applies to leadership – why wouldn’t you visualise the route and plan for eventualities?



If you would like help to visualise and plan a situation, contact us at Everyday Leader. We can empower you to gain clarity with some simple questions and maybe a bit of grid work. Give us a call at 01449 710438 or email colin@everydayleader.co.uk if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you.


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