No matter who you are, you are going to encounter obstacles in your life. Highly successful people overcome them by suffering “a prodigious amount of productive paranoia,” according to best-selling author and leadership expert Jim Collins.
This means thinking through all the possible outcomes of every decision you make and taking the time to plan and prepare for any potential unexpected setbacks, both in your career and outside of work. Or, put simply: be paranoid about future events that could derail you.
“The question is not if bad things will happen, but when,” Collins said last week at the World Business Forum 2023 summit. “And it’s what you do before the storm hits” that determines your ability to respond or recover.
Sometimes productive paranoia takes the form of overpreparing for a presentation so that you can anticipate every possible question your audience might ask. You can also study job skills that you don’t need in your current job but might give you a leg up when looking for a raise or promotion.
A mastery of artificial intelligence platforms could prove useful in the future, for example. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. CEOs and executives say they would like to hire employees with AI skills, but have difficulty finding such people, according to a recent education platform survey online edX.
Constantly thinking about potential futures — good and bad — is the type of productive paranoia all professionals should feel, Collins said. It’s a message he stands by, even if people think he’s a little crazy for doing it.
“The last time I was here, people thought I was some kind of maniac… because I was telling everyone, ‘The weather is nice today, but the storm is coming. I don’t know not what it is…It will be a surprise,” he said. “But you better be a paranoid monster, because something bad will definitely happen.”
Just be careful not to overdo it, other experts say: Thinking too much about “what ifs” can be bad for your mental health. Recognize when you shift from “fixation” to “hyper-fixation” on the unknown and, in response, streamline your thought process to focus on just one challenge at a time.
“You can start small by considering which important tasks need to be completed first, then delay or delegate the rest until you feel less anxious,” New York-based psychotherapist Jenny Maenpaa wrote for CNBC Make It last year. “The key is to step back and deal with things one at a time.”
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