"The Power of Negative Thinking"

Learned sources say that "I Am Facing Foreclosure" has been down since the early a.m. today. Knowing Casey Serin's sleep schedule, that means it will be late afternoon before he even knows the plug has been pulled on his website.

Casey Serin's overwhelming optimism has frustrated readers since last Fall. And, it turns out, there may be scientific data to support the idea that an all-encompassing optimism can actually be very bad for us.

Surgeon Atul Gawande recently published an article in the New York Times that points out that anticipating failure can be an exceptional tool in our arsenals. I thought that since Casey Serin is an avid reader of such psychological profiles, he might learn something here.

Gawande studied the well-publicized failures at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He wanted to know how a hospital with one of the highest rates of saving lives in triage maintained outpatient facilities where "the brain-injured were denied aid because they couldn't fill out forms."

What he quickly learned was that the hospital staff on the front end--those who provided immediate life-saving medical attention--typically thought in worst-case scenario terms.

"During a visit with colleagues at Walter Reed early in the Iraq war, I was struck, for example, by their attention to eye-injury statistics. Instead of being proud of saving some soldiers from blindness, the doctors asked a harder, more unnerving question: why had so many injuries occurred? They discovered that the young soldiers weren't wearing their protective goggles. Too ugly, the soldiers said. So the military switched to cooler-looking Wiley X ballistic eyewear. The soldiers wore their eyegear more consistently, and the eye-injury rate dropped immediately."

But Walter Reed's high marks caused people in aftercare to buy into their own publicity. They adopted a sense of "We're the best," and failed to ask themselves any of the hard questions that the triage staff were addressing.

The business community has been preaching, and simultaneously running from, the same truth for years. In early contact with clients, we often posit a simple scenario: "Where do you get (x component)?" When they answer, we ask who they use as a back-up if that vendor is unable to deliver a critical component in a rush scenario.

Fortunately, a good number of potential clients have that answer. A shocking percentage do not. For the ones that do have a back-up in place, the follow-up question brings things to a screeching halt. "What if their building burns to the ground just as you need this component? Who do you use then?"

Inevitably, this results in a conference room of, first, uncomfortable laughs, followed by folks quickly looking at one another for answers, then complete silence.

It's hard to get people to change, even when they've paid hefty fees to bring you in to provide such a service for them. So a little shock value has to be thrown into the mix to get people to adapt to a new way of thinking. And that thinking has to be fairly negative.

It was reported that the Pentagon's child care center efficiently evacuated on 9/11 by following the same evac drill they perform once a month. ""Even though confusion was all around them, they remained "pretty calm, as far as what to do," says Shirley Allen, the day-care center's director. "It helped a lot in a real emergency.""

Optimism is a great asset in the midst of a crisis. Certainly, no one is helped when key players fall into panic. But it's the negativity--anticipating future failures that may or may not happen--to get to the point where one can be effective in a crisis.

"For some people, a little pessimism may be a good thing. According to Julie K. Norem and psychologist Nancy Cantor, these people are able to use "defensive pessimism" to prevent the prospect of failure from immobilizing them."

Extensive travel was always a great teacher for me in crisis planning. Before leaving home on extended journeys, I planned for every contingency I could imagine. After a couple of trips, I learned that the things you plan for rarely happen...but elements of those plans become invaluable when faced with the worst.

The eternal optimists who become so entrenched in positive thinking are the ones who get crushed when the chips inevitably fall. They ignore the early warning signs of disaster and allow the problem to snowball. In Casey Serin's scenario, the mantra "it's all good" has no doubt held him back repeatedly from acknowledging, accepting, and adapting to his environment.

Something for you to remember the next time someone tells you to "lighten up."


Anonymous said...

Amen, sista!

Aspeth said...

See...we're all not such bastards after all!

Anonymous said...

Worst case scenarios are your best friend. We all know what to do when things are going well. It's when they fall apart that you will need that trump card of paranoia. Obvioius, but think of how many people leave their driveway (especially out here in the West, where there can be nearly 100 miles between civilization, depending on how low your bar is set) without water and food in case you go over the side of the road and no one finds you for 4 days. Happened to a man in my office - finally found him after 4 days, dying of exposure. There are dropoffs on the side of the road even in populous areas where you wouldn't be found. And most car accidents involve broken femurs. I'm just saying, paranoia can save your life.

Sprezzatura said...

Crossposted from EN:

How many of these mistakes will Casey make?

Schnapps said...

I know there's an intelligent thought burbling around in my brain somewhere regarding this.

Maybe I just used it up with all those big words this morning :>

I am sure it will come to me later, but for the most part, I agree.

Gypsy Pete said...

Having recently saved someone from drowning I can tell you - preparation and training are hugely important in time of live crisis - when time is of essence you have no time to think - you can only react instinctively - and if you don't have muscle memory programed and panic responses suppressed you probably won't make it...

So yes - you're right - see the good but also the very worst side of every situation in order to prepare for it.

Aspeth said...


Sprezzie...great link. I've heard a bunch of those from friends who trade and know it's dead-on. As for how many will Casey Serin make? He's pretty much covered them all, and then created some new ones!

Schnapps...seeeeee. that's what you get!

PMSPMS...yikes. Thanks goodness you were there! I'd love to read that story if you're thinking about posting it.

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