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I know; youve heard all of this before. Your mom told you to prepare for a major exam, your boss told you to prepare for a big meeting, and your doctor might have told you and your spouse to prepare for twins. Advance preparation is an old subject and one that many of us are tired of hearing about. But its importance in the business world today is no joke.

Confucius said, Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation, there is sure to be failure. Years later, Benjamin Franklin echoed this thought: By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. I couldnt agree with them more. If you dont take the time to do this, you will be seriously disadvantaged.

You may go into a critical negotiation with a customer or supplier thinking that you can wing it because your past experience has prepared you for almost any eventuality-but that could be disastrously wrong. Every deal is different. There are additional wrinkles in business relationships these days that may seem insignificant at first, but which may have huge consequences later.

Im reminded of a large cargo distillate contract a former employer of mine had signed with one of its suppliers. When I first read it some years ago as part of my job, the words in one paragraph seemed innocuous at first, but then I realized to my initial disbelief that the supplier had unwittingly given away nearly ten million dollars. No one on either side had realized that. Inadequate preparation of the agreement was the problem, but the supplier, a class company, accepted its error cheerfully (kind of) and lived up to the words as written.

In any negotiation, advance preparation means considering every reasonable eventuality, good and bad. You will need to anticipate problems and plan possible solutions. If you do this when you are not under pressure, you are less likely to be flummoxed the moment discussions or events take an unexpected turn. You will appear more self-confident and your stress will be lowered, which will give you a bargaining advantage in negotiations with your peers, your boss and those outside your company.

Give yourself enough time to understand the big picture. Do your preparation far enough in advance that you will have time to think about the subject, give birth to new ideas, find new material, and be able to fill in the blanks. Crash preparation just before the critical event is of limited value; you may remember only the thoughts and ideas that occurred to you at that time.

Make advance preparation a way of life; you may find that you actually enjoy it. It will become a useful skill that will continue to improve over time, and you will become more valuable to your company. You will be able to run shorter meetings, make more effective presentations, produce better agreements, and reduce time spent in costly corrections.

And you will be more likely to have the answers when questioned by management. Best of all, through your earlier anticipation and clearer understanding, you will appear more professional in solving quickly and efficiently the unexpected problems that will inevitably arise in any business situation.

Jack Goodhue, management coach, may be contacted at

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Business    Management