"The failures that you beat yourself up over are the ones where you experienced warning signs and can connect the dots backwards after the fact."
--- Caronline Ghosen
When I was in high school, the cars I drove were always older models that always required some kind of work on them to keep them running. In those days, or at least for the cars I had, they didn't have the kind of computer components in them like they do now. The cars today speak to you, or give multiple kinds of warnings when something is going wrong with the engine or about to go wrong. These are sometimes synched with the car dealership, so they can also send you texts and emails that it's time to have the car serviced.
Back in the day, we had a light or two on the dash of the car that would give us an indication that something is amiss with the vehicle. These were called idiot lights and if you couldn't find out what the problem was with the car and everything seemed to be running okay, you simply placed a piece of black electrical tape over the idiot light on the dash, so it would no longer be a nuisance to you. Not really a technical way of handling the situation, but I remember driving a car for a least another year with the tape shielding the illumination of the idiot light.
"Without knowing your own history, you are doomed to repeat it."
--- Emily V. Gordon
In business, as in life, we often have warning signs that we are either too busy to address or simply don't want to face them. We ignore them which initially seems like a good idea. Nothing serious happens, at first, so we think it must be a false warning. Our minds let us place some black tape over the idiot light so we can go about our business.
Some of these warning signs start out very subtle: sales drop ever so slightly; an employee regularly taking time off; a customer not returning calls, etc. But our busyness, we excuse the warning signs and sometimes justify them away.
"In Greek mythology, Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy, except - due to her rejection of Apollo's affections - nobody would ever believe her warnings."
Warning signs are everywhere and can come from anyone. The first step in seeing the warring signs for what they really are is to acknowledge them. Regardless of who or where they come from, take a moment to address them and analyze if they are real. Look into why something was said or an action was taken. You don't have to be paranoid all the time and begin seeing everything as a conspiracy theory, but at least consider why something looks and acts like a warning.
--- Kara Swisher
"Pride deafens us to the advice or warnings of those around us."
--- John C. Maxwell
Next, intentionally look for warning signs. It's easy to believe that we are invincible, especially if business has been good, the economy is riding high and we are getting kudos from those around us. Don't fall into this trap! Take five minutes once a week to walk around the shop, the job site, and the office and keeping an eye out for warning signs. Practice developing another sense you've had or used before. Sniff out the warnings that might be obvious to others. Empower others to share their concerns with you.
"Now the difficulty with those warnings is that they were not specific."
--- Lee H. Hamilton
Finally, when you see the warning, take action. Placing a piece of tape over the warning light does work. You won't see the annoying warning anymore, but that action is the same as sticking your head in the sand. Face the warning head-on and see if it is legitimate. It might not be, but at least you remove it from your plate and get on to other productive issues. Bigger, more damaging and expensive problems pop up when we ignore the idiot light.