In movies, it’s not unusual to see a character set up a tripwire. They place a string or wire across a floor or doorway which then activates an intruder alert to the owner (by ringing a bell, for example). If you have a security camera at your front door and you get notified when it detects a presence - that’s a tripwire.
But a tripwire does not need to be a physical device. It can be anything that is monitored and alerts you to a predefined condition so you can take action. Tripwires can play an essential role in successful problem solving, decision making, and goal achievement. They allow you to recognize shortcomings so you can correct them before going too far along the wrong path.
Seeing the problem
If you can’t see a problem, you can’t fix it because you don’t know it exists. Similarly, you won’t know if you are making sufficient progress toward a goal if you don’t measure and check your progress. Tripwires force you to confront reality and make necessary adjustments.
How to set a tripwire
To be effective tripwire, it needs the following elements:
1) A specific, measurable goal
2) A triggering condition (an event that will require action)
3) An alarm to get your attention
4) A mechanism for monitoring the tripwire (automated or planned checkpoints)
5) An alternate plan of action (plan B)
(Note that the term “tripwire” is also used In marketing but that is a different concept.)
Whether you are solving a specific problem or trying to achieve at a higher level, you need to be able to have a way to monitor success or failure.
For example, imagine a business that has decided to implement a plan to increase revenues. Let’s say they need to increase revenues by $500,000 in 12 months. That’s an easy goal to measure - in fact, they most likely already do.
Setting the triggering condition and checkpoints
At the outset of putting a plan in place, define the condition(s) that indicate there is a need for further attention and determine how you will be able to check - either through an automated process or manual checkpoints.
Think of a checkpoint as an interim deadline. In our example, a triggering condition could be “failing to increase revenue by $250,000 in six months.” If you have software that tracks revenue and you can set a notification for that condition, great. Another example of an automated alert is the security camera, which alerts you without human intervention - via text, email, phone call, etc.
If an automated process is not feasible, you need to manually schedule checkpoints - tasks or meetings at which time you will evaluate the data to determine if the interim condition was met.
Plan A vs. Plan B
Your Plan A was the option you implemented, but any decision making or problem solving process should identify at least one viable alternative. Plan B is the next best option. It is what will you do if you reach the checkpoint and find you missed the target.
If the six month meeting comes and you have not reached the interim condition of $200,000, what then? Plan B may be to hire more salespeople, which you may have wanted to avoid because of the additional overhead. But desperate times may call for desperate measures! You missed your 6 month goal so you need a different approach to reach your 12 month goal.
I set a similar tripwire back in 2021 when I put a plan in place to lose 25 pounds in 12 months. The interim goal was to be 15 pounds lighter in 6 months. Plan B was to add an additional weight loss method that was more difficult but likely to be more effective.
Tripwires and checkpoints allow you to see what you may otherwise miss. They also force your future self to take a specific action which you may have been inclined to rationalize your way out of.
Think well - live well.
- Steve Haffner, speaker and mind performance strategist
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