Accelerate Pain

Accelerate Threshold of Pain

In this screencast I’ll describe a practice we’ve observed, which is common to high-performers. Rather than delay “pain,” they accelerate the threshold and force issues out early, rather than avoid them, delaying their confrontation. They knew that when confronted early, they were afforded more time to fix the problems. This “early schedule” or before-the-fact behavior is a core characteristic of these high performers. We’ve also seen the concept extended to create corporate cultures that rewards before-the-fact action.


Let’s look at an illustration as a way of explaining the concept. There is a time frame for action for any situation, be it a decision or a project. With this comes some form of target date by when the things is to be done or decided. My “pain” meter is on the left.

In normal environments, they tend to lower this pain-level at the start. We see this all the time. Schedules, business plans, financials, and expectations are all set assuming the best case-scenario. The data show positive indicators; the project is finishing on time and are within budget, or in the case of a prioritization decision... “Sure we can do all 10 at once and still hit our target!” The logic continues that, “Everything looks great, no problems here!” Who wants to deal with problems when the excitement and energy levels are high when things start out.

Few people want to talk about the problems for fear of being labeled as "not being a team player." Some cultures actively discourage this kind of before-the-fact challenging, as it is seen as negative and lacking in “can-do” spirit. The world is full of instances where decisions should have been challenged early in the cycle. This avoidance behavior leads to “group-think,” but that is the subject of another discussion. At some point the target is clear and it is clear that the problems have not been resolved. Nothing sharpens the focus as a deadline approaches. Then the pain level goes up at a rapid rate, just when all the other issues are hitting. The result is delay or failure. I call this “head-in-the-sand” planning and more common than one would expect.

Looking at high performers…. They raise the pain threshold early, since they know they will get more time to correct the problem if they attack it head on. Unlike the low performers who hope that no one will notice so they can hide the issues and resolve them the background, the high performer accelerates the threshold since they know this will increase a sense of group urgency and focus, well before the time it is really needed. The faster you can accelerate the pain threshold and challenge assumptions, boundary conditions, dominant ideas, avoidance factors, and essential factors underlaying a decision... the faster you solve it. The best-practice environments create a culture that rewards this behavior and discourages the cowboy tactics of after-the-fact last minute rescues.