Probability Versus Possibility

The company I work for was having our annual strategic planning meeting this week. It was such a great experience to be a part of, especially coming from a corporate job, where my opinion didn’t have any influence. I learned a lot during this event, but there was one thing said by one of our co-founders that really struck home. She made a statement about us basing our future on possibility rather than probability.

I have discussed topics similar before, but I haven’t heard it put quite like this. When trying to plan for the future, we have two ways in which we generally operate.

Probability

This is instinct. As humans we like to base what we are going to do on what has or has not worked in the past. Often times we do it without even realizing it. To some extent this is appropriate, but the majority of the time it’s pointless because do not know what will happen in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, if you know you are allergic to peanuts, it is okay to base a future of no-peanut-eating on the probability that you might die otherwise.

The real idea is that we shouldn’t focus our time and energy on what went wrong. We see this happening in businesses every day. CEO’s and managers all over the world are coming up with plans based off of the past errors. They build plans on top of plans to avoid old failures of the previous plans (and this is what they get paid the big bucks for!).

There is only so much you can do when you focus on the probability of future events. When you change your mindset to the possibilities there are, the spectrum becomes much broader.  

Possibility

This is more like it. When you are planning for the future, maybe it would be wise to base your ideas on what can happen in the future, not what has happened in the past. What a concept! I should win a Nobel Prize for that right there.

Let’s say your company loses a ton of money because it didn’t reach its sales goals for the year. Here’s a little multiple choice for you. Choose the best option:

A)     Create next year’s plan on the probability that the sales won’t be up to par again

B)      Go lock yourself in a room and cry

C)      Fire EVERYBODY

D)     Take a futuristic approach and focus on the possibility that the sales will exceed expectations and how you are going to get your team to that point

Drum roll please…

 

 

Right Answer (if you’re an idiot): A

Right answer (if you’re a pansy): B and C

Right answer (if you’re the best manager ever): D

 

It’s important to be possibility-oriented. I know many statisticians will disagree with me because they think probability is the greatest thing since sliced bread; however, there is only so much you can do with stats. The future is unknown, and we have the ability to plan accordingly instead of wasting our time crying over spilt milk.

“An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being often but precursors of the things which we are capable of performing.” -Samuel Smiles
 
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