American self-help author Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way (2014) draws inspiration from Stoic philosophy to demonstrate how obstacles and challenges can be transformed into opportunities for personal growth and success. One recommended mindset is the pre-mortem: envisioning potential difficulties aligns with Stoic principles of accepting what one cannot control and focusing on their responses to external events:
In a postmortem, doctors convene to examine the causes of a patient’s unexpected death so they can learn and improve for the next time a similar circumstance arises. Outside of the medical world, we call this a number of things—a debriefing, an exit interview, a wrap-up meeting, a review—but whatever it’s called, the idea is the same: We’re examining the project in hindsight, after it happened.
A pre-mortem is different. In it, we look to envision what could go wrong, what will go wrong, in advance, before we start. Far too many ambitious undertakings fail for preventable reasons. Far too many people don’t have a backup plan because they refuse to consider that something might not go exactly as they wish. Your plan and the way things turn out rarely resemble each other. What you think you deserve is also rarely what you’ll get. Yet we constantly deny this fact and are repeatedly shocked by the events of the world as they unfold.
Idea for Impact: By embracing anticipation, you equip yourself with the tools to fortify your defenses, and in some cases, sidestep challenges altogether. You’re ready with a safety net ready to catch you if you stumble. With anticipation, you can endure.
P.S. Many industries—engineering, manufacturing, healthcare just to name a few—have a very formal, structured, systematic approach to identify and prioritize potential failures, their causes, and their consequences. As with a pre-mortem, the primary purpose of FMEA is to proactively assess and mitigate risks by understanding how a process or system might fail and the impact of those failures.