Whenever I’m scheduled to do a keynote overseas, I always plan to arrive at the location two days in advance. It not only helps me to adjust to the time difference, but it also prevents any mishaps due to travel delays.

Travel delays may occur because of unexpected events such as overbooked planes, a flat car tire,  or an upset stomach. All of these individual occurrences have a low chance of happening.

However, the overall probability of a delay is made up by the small probabilities of all individual delays.

Since I can think of many reasons that my travel schedule is delayed, the overall risk to my travel schedule is actually very high.

This is a concept called the high probability of low probability events.

The secret to deal with this phenomenon is to avoid putting much energy in trying to prevent small probability events. For example, a spare tire in my car will help me to mitigate the risk of travel delays caused by a flat tire. Yet, it will do nothing to prevent all the other unfortunate events which may cause delays.

Instead, choose an option which mitigates the overall risk, even if a small probability event happens. In my case, the solution is to add an additional day to my travel schedule.

Next time you’re trying to prevent small probability failures, think bigger: It’s probably much better to focus your energy on designing a solid plan B to deal with the overall risk instead.

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