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Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20. This month’s article is about a technique you can use to improve your foresight, too.

Researchers have found that people generate explanations more efficiently when they think of an outcome or event as certain. Premortems are a little-used way to use this “prospective hindsight” to improve foresight, enabling you to create better plans that achieve better outcomes.


In marketing, smart companies conduct postmortems after a marketing campaign has run. The postmortem is an opportunity to take a close look at the metrics and discuss what went well and what could have been done differently. In his book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, Guy Kawasaki suggests that you should also conduct a “premortem” before the launch takes place. Premortems can be very helpful for looking at problems in a fresh way. Done well, a premortem can prevent failure by identifying potential problems before they occur.

Get everyone thinking about what could go wrong

The basic idea of the premortem is to anticipate everything that could go wrong before a launch. Assemble your team and ask everyone to think about what you all want to see happen with this campaign. Next, assume the campaign ran and it was a failure – and start brainstorming all the possible reasons why the failure occurred.

For this process to work you need:

  • A clearly defined project – You can’t analyze a moving target. What are the components of the marketing campaign as currently envisioned? What is the goal? Who is the target audience? What is the creative? Where will the campaign run?

  • An open and accepting environment – Everyone involved with this discussion needs to feel comfortable voicing their ideas. They need to trust that they won’t be attacked for suggesting how the project might fail.

Take steps to prevent or avoid these potential pitfalls

Once you’ve identified what can go wrong, you need to do something with this information. You may need to modify some aspect of your campaign. Or you might simply need to be vigilant about watching for the early warning signs of the problems you identified, tracking each concern through the life of the campaign.


Attorney Paula Schaefer helps people plan for the most important stages and events in their lives. Her services include estate planning, business entity formation and business transactions. I wrote the text for her estate planning brochure, which explains how Paula helps her clients gain peace of mind by turning their wishes into plans.

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