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  • Writer's pictureJohn Brandy

Pre - Mortems

Updated: Mar 22

That applies to the way underutilized idea of Pre-Mortems.

What on earth are Pre-Mortems?

A project is going well, but it’s not perfect yet. You can see the potential for improvement, so what should you do?

What you should do is whack yourself on the head. That's what.

Thank you Sir Doubt, but we're talking about real solutions to real problems.

Like financial problems?

Absolutely. That's why we're here.

But back to what we were talking about, which is improving projects, personal financial projects as well as business objectives that you have.

This is done with pre-mortems.

You mean post-mortems, right?

No, pay attention DT, that is, if you want to be a regular on this show.

So explain, then.

I thought you'd never ask. Now listen.



Projects fail at a spectacular rate. People just don't speak up during the planning.

Why not?

For a lot of different reasons. By making it safe for people who know the project and might be concerned about some part of it, you make it a better project for everyone on the project team.

Why not identify and maybe avoid problems before they are problems.

Ask why!

Ask what you're doing right and especially ask what you might be doing wrong. It's not blame.

Post-mortems are for blaming...

Yeah, sort of, but this is a lot more like a Mastermind, or at least what a Mastermind is supposed to be. it's using multiple brains with a group of people.

Two heads are better than one?


And five heads are better than two?

Yes, but you can stop now.

I'll stop when I decide to stop.

Right, so by using a pre-mortem meeting, you help stop problems when they're little, when they're not life-threatening, just by asking some planning questions, some communication questions.

Just ask things like: What are we doing right? And what could go wrong? You might be surprised at how many people don't bother with this critical step. The project manager should make sure that never happens.

And why would we bother to look for bad news?

It's not bad news. It's anything but. In fact, it's preventing real bad news by pretending.

You just imagine that the something, the project, the whatever, has failed.

Then you work backward from that not-so-great end to figure out why it happened, and actually prevent it from happening!

Or why it could have happened?

Yes, or that. But you don't stop there.

Where do you stop?

When you've also figured out what to do to prevent that bad ending from ever happening in the first place.

Wait a sec...that's "group think" isn't it?

No, not at all. I can see where people might get confused about that, though. When people say "group think", they usually mean when people conform to easy ways of thinking when they mentally give in to threats instead of identifying them and beating them.

Reminds me of the old jokes about hindsight being golden.


And I can see why.

Whenever we can put the obvious filter on a thing we do it. This works because we use the quiet time to stop to find the "obvious" before instead of after. We operate on the assumption...

We should NEVER assume...

Right, unless we do it in advance to prevent having to do it later when it's too late.

And the balance?

What balance?

What the kids say, "keeping it real".

Oh, you mean making sure that the threat could really happen.


You definitely want to do that, just not in the brainstorming part. You don't want to discourage ideas after all. No playing into blind spots. It's arguably the most important part of the planning. For anything.

Okay, okay. So how do we do this thing?

Good question. That's going to depend on the team.


No, I'll answer the question. I just mean that it's important for each team to decide and agree. Some teams might use existing channels. Maybe they already use Slack or Trello or some such.

I prefer post-it notes.

Sure, that works too. Whatever the tool, use it.

Just be sure to ask questions to get the juices flowing.

Like what questions?

Like, what might get in the way of our deadline?

And, do we really face a deadline? Sometimes we do and sometimes we just THINK we do.

And whatever we think is true, right?

Sure is. But you quickly find out that there are all kinds of assumptions we make even if we don't say them.


Like, what are we missing to make this thing work? (Whatever the thing is).

Or why are we doing this?

Yes! Even why are we doing this?

This seems so obvious. Why don't we always do this?

Because we're busy! Everything has a lot of moving parts, and we know we have to get through them to finish whatever it is we're focused on doing.

What is it? Does the squeaky wheel get the grease?

Oh, you're in rare form today. Good one! The most pressing matters are the important ones.

So, there are a few different ways to do this, but as I said before, a pre-mortem exercise is a lot like brainstorming.

Spend an hour in-person thinking and writing down, but NOT judging, everything that might possibly go wrong. After an hour, stop. Then, stack-rank them for the top ten things in about 10 minutes, remembering to not eliminate the rest but label them all as tied for eleventh.

Priority ideas don't mean bad ideas.

At least not for now.

I also recommend what an old employer of mine called a "bio-break", before the evaluation part.

Last, spend one hour "solving", air quotes again, each of those ten problems. Put the answers into categories. By doing that, you'll gather together reasons why you might want to change part of the project, alter the whole thing, or maybe even skip it. Keep in mind that just because something is a great idea doesn't automatically make it a good idea for you.

Yes, and that gets in the way of pointing fingers and fixing blame, right?

You did not just say that. I mean, you haven't been listening AND thinking that.

Muff, muff, muff. But I just adore nasty surprises. Especially with major product launches.

I'm going to think you're auditioning to be The Devil pretty soon.

It's hard to be forward-looking, but it's a great evolution in your thinking, and one you'll need to be a successful investor, which as usual is where we're going with this.

Right before the break, I started to talk about using examples to evaluate our actions.

And that comes from the concept of the effectiveness of nudges, the whole idea of nudge.

What put this into the picture anyway?

Well, besides the supporting research from places like Wharton and Cornell, I first heard about the idea from a researcher named Gary Klein.

He first outlined the process in his book The Power Of Intuition: How To Use Your Gut Feelings To Make Better Decisions At Work . This, his second book, was written in 2004.

Wikipedia tells us that since 2009, Klein has been a Senior Scientist at MacroCognition LLC.

Oh, so Wikipedia is a good source now...

It's always good to learn, DT...

Speaking of which, I learned about the pre-mortem idea in Klein's 2013 book called "Seeing What Others Don't", which is full of examples of pre-mortems from Daniel Boone to Fantasy Baseball.

The one that most sticks in my mind is a story about a Morton-Thiokol engineer who recommended that the 1986 launch of the space shuttle Challenger be delayed or even scrubbed, because it was too cold. His recommendation was turned down, with obvious unfortunate results and zero successful execution, because the impact of fixes wasn't fully considered.

What should have happened?

Well, beyond not ignoring potential signs of trouble, a couple of steps, as it turns out:

Action items?

Sort of, DT, potential threats, we'll call them.

First, you prepare - make sure everything is ready and everyone is comfortable.

Then, you suddenly imagine a total fiasco. You claim to look into a crystal ball to see the outcome of the proposed plan, your chances of success.

"Oh, no, oh, it's a failure! Not just any failure, but a complete, total, embarrassing disaster. It is so bad; no one is talking to each other! Things have gone as wrong as they can go!

Yeah, DT, you've got the idea! We will not forget the reasons for failure!

But this cheap crystal ball keeps buffering and won't reveal the reason(s) for the failure. The question of the hour is "What could have caused this?"

Okay, not too much enthusiasm there. You don't want to be one of those people who starts their mouth running then goes off and leaves it, do you?

Is that sarcasm?

No, it's just something we all do. But the next step is something we should all do, and that is to come up with reasons for the failure and ways to avoid it.

There's a wide range of ways besides the earlier ideas, like a whiteboard or a flipchart. The tool is nowhere near as important as doing it, even publicly. Sometimes publically is the only right way.

Why? I'm supposed to ask why a lot, right?

When the shoe fits, yes. So that it's clear that you're not hiding anything. A culture of candor, as it's called, is super important!

And the last step Klein advocates is to review the results every few months while the project is ongoing, to see if anything worrisome has crept in or if there are new threats.

Some example questions which have been used in real-life situations include what if key people leave, or there's a distraction or an emergency,

Or, surprise, the people don't know that they don't agree on something.

Yep, that can be really bad, but it happens a lot!

Everybody has to buy in and be willing to make changes to get better when those changes prove necessary!

By eliminating the fear in anticipating a negative outcome, you can have a backup plan, and you can buff up your crystal ball and give it a try.

And I suppose you can tie this into investing, right?

I can do that.

Ready to tie Pre-Mortems into investing?

I am positively bursting with excitement.

Excellent! I absolutely love it when you’re enthusiastic like this!

Kuf, kuf, kuf.

Use your imagination to…

Hey everyone, it’s time to pretend again!

If that’s the way you want to picture things, then by all means do so! For everyone else, it’s time to expand our thinking, an idea we’ll cover in a near future pod.

Promises, promises.

Ones which can be kept and will be kept, to be specific.

You did say that specific was better. I’ll give you a little there.

You’re a tough one, DT, but okay, so, everyone? You are going to have to invest, somehow, someway, sometime.

Or you could work until you die…

Yeah that, or even better…

What’s better than working until you die?

Nothing, if you’re the devil. Are you the devil?

I’m not the devil. I mean, if I was, I sure wouldn’t tell you.

Right. So when our successful friends, that’s everyone listening, do invest, do reach beyond what they know that they can do successfully, they do it with their eyes wide open.

As opposed to what?

As opposed to continually doing something over and over the same way, without understanding it.

Einstein warned us not to do that…

Or at least to not expect different results. He said that was the definition of insanity. Oh, how I love insanity!

Right, like the question what if I invest too much?

You can?

Mathematically you can, but as I always say, that’s not the only right answer.

What else is there?

What else is how you feel.

If you think the question through all the way, you realize that investing too much is something you can’t know ahead, just like you can’t know what your last day will be.

So what do you do?

The good news is that you can do something about it. Even better, you can do something about it ahead of time.

You can give the extra to your kids if you want.

You can give the extra to your favorite charity if you want.

Bottom line, don’t worry about it.

Right, don’t worry about it, or anything else either. Even if you can control it. Napoleon Hill tells us not to worry about the things we can solve. Just solve them and move on.

Any other examples?

Sure! Lots! In addition to “investing too much”, there’s the first-world problem of jealousy.

Is this egghead stuff we’re getting into here?

Not at all. Remember how I briefly mentioned The Cameron Line last episode?

Yes, SIGH, what’s your point now?

My point is…that entire debate was based on our being jealous of either Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or Richard Branson.

Or all three at once.

Yep. Instead of us focusing on how they got to be wealthy and whether or not that’s a good idea for us, we’re told to pay attention to…

Something they did because of all that money.

Right again, it looks like the same box, but it isn’t.

You think you can get people out of their own heads?

I do. I got myself out of my own head, after all. Or rather, I’m getting there.

Anything else?

Actually, yes. I’ve said this before…

You’ve said that before.

Yes, that’s correct: I’ve said that before, but it’s no less critical for all that.





Before you even start?

Way before you start.

That should actually be one of the very first criteria. It’s why I seem to hesitate sometimes when asked for a specific answer.

Because the very first question has to be, in my mind, “What do you want your money (in this case money) to DO FOR YOU?”.

And I suppose you’re going to say that the answer actually matters.

Yes I am, because it does!

Let me explain: what usually happens for a lot of people.

After they get past the disbelief of air quotes “last time”, they start to see others being successful.

They see them because they’re looking for them, right?

True, and I talk about that in another recording in more detail, but for now, it’s the start of actual Optimism and Belief.

You sometimes think I’m the devil, and I’m not, but I admit I don’t like either Optimism or Belief.

Okay, good, then you’ll really hate the next two stages...Thrill and then,c





Oh, I got it, Denial.

Noooo, you’re early, like a cat near lunchtime.

Try this: Euphoria.

Well, if we’re all going to be rich, then why not? That’s motivation, right?

For many people it is. And I’m not arguing that.

There are a lot of motivations in life, and if you don’t have good money options, that could very easily change how you see things.

And that could, if you’re not careful, affect your goals.

But not if you’ve set them first, I’m guessing.

Right. After things have all gone to the moon, as they say, they will start to turn downward.

The question is, do we start to question our decisions, or are they really already made?

How would you know if they’re already made?

Because the individual would have already sold and walked away, maybe even whistling.

If they instead start to get Complacent, if they start to advocate that we all need to “cool off”, that’s a warning sign.

It always leads to Anxiety as the “dip” takes longer than expected, Denial, as in “everything will come back”…

Which is sometimes true…

Yes, but it’s not something you want to count on. And you really don’t want the next stage of Panic, where you might even consider using swear words.

Keeping up with the Joneses.

Well yeah, but not in a good way. Wait, didn’t you say that last week?

Maybe. Not saying.

Okay, so this can get worse. It’s nearly every day that someone says “I can’t stand this, I’m getting out and never doing this again.”

They Capitulate, they blame, they think themselves idiots.

Sounds a little too familiar.

Yeah, “who shorted the market”, they say. “How did those rich people blah blah blah?”

I thought you said they set goals instead.

That’s what I want everyone to do, but not everyone does.

If they did, they’d be out of that particular investment and this conversation wouldn’t be happening!

Not only would they be out of that particular investment, but they’d consider what happened to be inevitable, and they’d already be on to something else.

Even something similar?

Yes! Even something similar! As with a lot of things, it’s not the overall area that’s a problem, it’s doing the same thing everyone else is doing when it doesn’t affect everyone the same way!

That’s deep.

Thank you, I think.

Wait. Aren’t you supposed to make sure I stay understandable? Aren’t you supposed to make sure I don’t sound like a financial broker or something?

Sorry, I got carried away learning.

Okay. And I’ll pretend to believe that. But you, they, we, whatever, can fix this thing!

How does that work?

It works by taking action.

More knowing-doing gap stuff?

Tell you what. When nobody, including me, does that stuff anymore, then






I doubt (no pun intended, being Doubting Thomas and all) that it is possible for you to stop talking.

That’s funny. I have been speechless occasionally, but that’s a different story.

Like how taking action instead of just knowing about it is a different story.

But being in a Pre-Mortem world is going to fix that, right?

It could, if one of your questions is, what happens if I don’t do this, whatever THIS is.

Maybe that’s nothing, maybe it’s everything.

It’s definitely you, though.

And you would know that how?

Because I’ve been in situations where not doing something was the right thing. But remember, not doing something is really doing something sometimes.

Why, oh why, would you take a really simple and clear idea and muck it up all the time?

Oh did you ever walk into that one.


It’s because you let me do it.

But as an experienced financial geek, I won’t let my friends here do such a thing.

At least, not if they let me have anything to say about it.

Sigh. Okay, before we let these nice people get back to whatever else they were doing before they joined us, what’s the one last thing Pre-Mortems can do for us?

Thank you for asking, finally.

We need to define what all the puzzle pieces are that we want to have in our lives.

Puzzle Pieces?

That’s just one way of saying it. The real name is Multiple Sources of Income.

You mean Multiple STREAMS of Income, don’t you?

Either way. Both are right. Let’s just say the initials, MSIs

What we do is decide what is right for us, first. It doesn’t have to be right for ANYONE else.

Not even with married couples?

Of course, it just helps to have people agree with you, to have their support, but no matter what you have to be able to keep on keeping on without anyone else’s help.

It may be a really good thing to have help, but in the end, you have to do it. I can’t do it for you and you can’t do it for me.

But you sure can do it for you.

And with MSIs? Whichever S you use?

With MSIs, you rest comfortably. If one source or stream dries up, there are others, so it’s not so bad.

It might not be the very best thing possible, but it doesn’t throw you off your game, either.

Give me an example.

Okay, but it will be quick. You know the importance of respecting our listeners time…

You get called into The Office at work, and it’s not good.

For whatever reason, at the end of the day, you don’t have that job anymore.

What happens?

You go home, you feel bad, your day is…

Not your day, your life.

Okay, your life. It’s a mess now. It wasn’t a mess this morning, but it sure is now.

Why? (There’s that WHY question again).

Because your major, maybe your only, stream has dried up. It’s like you depending on a certain shade tree and then it dies.

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

But if you had a side business, or a side hustle as they’re sometimes called, then the loss doesn’t have so much impact.

This is an investing pod, don’t forget.

Right, of course, and different investments, or all your investments combined, can be another stream.

Maybe that’s because of dividends, or maybe that’s just because of growth. Either way, it is.

It’s not at all existential.

No Schroedinger’s cash here.

Right. Um. Who’s the geek now?

Set goals. Take Action, and have MSIs.

Be simple.

And as I said at the top, this podcast is getting simpler, too! All thanks to you!

I call on D T to tell you what you must remember.


¡Gracias por escuchar! ¡A la prochaine!

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