Stress testing ideas to the extreme

Political debate can be frustrating. Just when you think the representative of your ‘side’ has landed a knockout blow you see the opposing leader (or patsy) come back with something reasonable, well executed and stress-relieving. Before you have time to examine the answer, things have moved on.

Prime Minister's Questions, Theresa May

This is no mistake or coincidence. Each side will have rehearsed the potential questions and their own responses time and time again, whether for Prime Minister’s Questions or a TV debate. This is why the only time you see politicians truly rattled is when a journalist or a member of the public throws them a complete curve ball. An ‘I was there, actually’, a ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’. Refusing to accept the rehearsed answer works too, but even that may have been rehearsed beforehand.

Debate of this kind is often compared to chess and that is a great analogy. The best players think dozens of moves ahead, mentally playing out different scenarios or unusual moves and able to adapt to each one. It is truly obvious when you see a politician who has been too busy, stressed, tired or lazy to stress test their ideas. It often makes the headlines or sets social media alight.

But, so often, this rigorous process is not carried out when thinking about ideas within business or organisations. Rehearsing and stress testing ideas and their consequences is a service that I offer for businesses, but it is also something that I do with ideas that I have for clients, whether they are charities, companies or individuals. I often have ideas that rely on a second trigger to work (such as in a media campaign – creating a scenario that thrives on response), could cause controversy or could play out in a number of ways.

Stress testing is a game of chess

So I am there at my mental chess board, exploring the outcomes. I want to know if I have thought of something that will get a client on the front pages or simply crash their share price. They do too.

When I am commissioned to come up with a broad set of ideas for a client, I do just that. As broad as they come. From ideas that will please your grandmother to ideas that will make her hair stand on end. One to frighten the horses for every one that pats the finance manager gently on the head. You can guess which ones undergo more stress testing.

This testing is sometimes best done within the proposal document itself, or in front of the client. Showing your workings can often make them more daring and emboldened to try something new. Some may even choose the ideas that rely on the reaction of others to work. They’re a calculated gamble. But even the favourite at Ascot loses every now and again.


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